Isabella of France

Proof that the French can kick butt.

Proof that the French can kick butt.

Anna Komemne – Isabella of France is another Fearless woman of history.  She should be more well known than she is, but I suppose your so-called modern school systems can’t be bothered.

Buffalo Calf Road – Isn’t Zach supposed to be here?

Anna – I don’t understand the question so I won’t answer it.

Gaspar Correia – Yeah, Zach’s back from Japan. He said he’d be here.

Anna – He’s running late.

Buffalo – Did you take over the blog again?

Hua Mulan – She launched a coup. I thought we were done with this.  What did you do with him?

Anna – I didn’t do anything! I just…maybe…kind of changed his flight schedule. He should be in Korea on a 58 hour layover.

Buffalo – You got to stop these mad power grabs. It’ll only lead to your unhappiness.

Anna – I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.

Gaspar – Well, folks, Anna’s busy with her coup, so I’ll start this off.  Isabella of France is often known as “The She-Wolf of France.”  She was born to King Phillip IV of France and Queen Joan I.  When she was twelve she was married to Edward II of England.

Mulan – So, she was born to the king of France and married to the future king of England. Born with a silver spoon doesn’t begin to cover what this girl had.  Her future was set and it was going to be amazing.

Anna – Her father was a cold, unemotional man and that was a strong king that controlled France with a strong iron fist. This was probably a huge influence on Isabella’s notions of leadership. Apparently there were two rules she learned, kick butt and take names. I’m not sure about the order. Her mother died when she was young so her childhood was spent learning from the tables of the most powerhungry people in Europe. Weakness was not allowed and only strength was worthy of respect.

Her father when he was young.

Her father when he was young.

Mulan – By all accounts she was a very beautiful girl. She was also universally described as charismatic and very intelligent.  Now that’s unusual for this time period. Women were just tools for diplomatic advantage, but Isabella was known for her own merits.

Buffalo – And this beautiful, convincing and highly intelligent woman was dropped into the Royal court of England as the twelve year old bride of Phillip II.  She faced some problems though. For one thing, her new husband was romantically involved with another man, so her chance at true love wasn’t exactly blossoming.  Also, Phillip II was having power struggles with the barons.  While Edward was fighting the Scots Isabella was using her contacts in the French court to find diplomatic solutions. But there was another problem. As queen of England, Isabella was due certain lands, power and authority which Edward was giving to his boyfriend, Gaveston.  This even became public when Phillip sat with Gaveston at the wedding feast and gave all of Isabella’s wedding jewelry to Gaveston. Her family had to intercede to end the public embarrassment.

Gaspar – That doesn’t sound like a very happy marriage situation. But slowly Isabella began building support within the court and even made Gaveston one of her allies. Not bad, I think it was Thomas Edison that said “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.”

Anna – That was Lincoln, genius.  And even though her husband clearly liked Gaveston more than her, she put up with it for years while she built her powerbase. But while she was willing to put up with her husband’s rubbish, the barons were not and they began to fight against him.  When Edward launched a campaign against the rebellious Scots he failed miserably. He and Isabella barely escaped but Gaveston was trapped in a castle and captured. The unforgiving barons didn’t really appreciate his hold on the king and executed him.

Mulan – Now that Gaveston was out of the picture, Phillip actually paid a little attention to his wife and stopped giving her the cold shoulder.  This led to their first son and heir, the future Edward III.

Gaspar – They’re not very imaginative about their naming, are they?

Mulan – Well, with Gaveston gone and an heir secured, Isabella had more trust and power in court. She began sitting on councils and even advising the king. But then Hugh Despenser started getting the King’s ear and gaining power and influence. Meanwhile, the barons gained more power under the Lancaster family.  It didn’t help that the Dispensers and Lancasters were lifelong enemies. Phillip became…romantically involved with Hugh and started ignoring his wife again. The problem was, Isabella was giving him really good advice. She wanted him to get rid of the Lancasters but Phillip ignored her. Also, Hugh didn’t become her ally like Gaveston did. Both Isabella and the Barons didn’t appreciate Hugh’s influence with the king.

Gaspar – There was a general named Roger de Mortimer. He did a real good job fighting the troublesome Scots but then Phillip’s BFF Hugh confiscated some of Mortimer’s land and had him arrested. Roger then escaped from the Tower of London by a daring repel down the wall.  He had to fight eighty guards armed only with dagger. Only his expertise with the long forgotten martial arts of the Druids did he manage his escape. Once he got to the Thames, his friends had an alchemical power suit ready for him and he fought the army to make his way out of London and made his way to France.

Mortimer had a nerdy name, but he was a man that knew what needed to be done.

Mortimer had a nerdy name, but he was a man that knew what needed to be done.

Anna – That part about escaping out of the Tower was true. Hugh Despenser began a reign of terror where he punished all his enemies and also their families. He confiscated land and imprisoned old women and children. Some of these people were Isabella’s allies and friends. Hugh was eroding her power. He also began turning Phillip away from her and soon it was back to her being ignored again.

Mulan – Let me report on the military situation. The Scots in the north were humiliating Phillip’s armies and drove further south and Isabella was isolated in Tynemouth Priory. She was there because Edward left her there without thinking about the war. The Scottish army surrounded the priory on land and the allied Flemish navy. Well, raised by a power hungry sociopath Isabella wasn’t one to panic or surrender.  She sent out a group of young squires to delay the advanced Scottish party. It was a cold move that meant the squires deaths or capture. The few knights she had went to capture a ship. They had to fight their way to the docks. Several of the knights and two of Isabella’s ladies in waiting died to get her there. Once aboard they sailed their way through the Flemish blockade and made their way to safety.

No Medieval tale is complete without guys in armor beating each other up.

No Medieval tale is complete without guys in armor beating each other up.

Here's the priory where Isabella was in trouble. a very scenic place to be threatened.

Here’s the priory where Isabella was in trouble. a very scenic place to be threatened.

Buffalo – Well, when she got home she was furious with Edward for leaving her there in the path of the enemy army. Also, Edward had her servants arrested and her children taken away. This ticked her off.  She realized what a loser he was. The barons were revolting, the Scots were pushing south and she was being sidelined. Again, she didn’t panic. What she did was go down to France. There she met Roger Mortimer. The two had a lot in common. They both hated Edward and Hugh and they both wanted to see someone more competent on throne.  Together, they hired a mercenary army and prepared to invade England.  That’s right, she’s going after her jerk husband.

Mulan – Back to my favorite topic, the military. Isabella and her army landed at Orwell with only about 1,500 troops. Medieval armies were small, but this was still pretty small.  With her tiny army she moved inland. Edward hired local militia to rise up and stop her but those levies joined her side. Then barons began joining her side. She marched to London and Edward was soon captured as he tried to flee. He was thrown in prison and soon was conveniently found dead.

It was a quick campaign with little fighting. It was a rapid grab of power from a king that was too weak and stupid to hold it. When you play the game of thrones...

It was a quick campaign with little fighting. It was a rapid grab of power from a king that was too weak and stupid to hold it. When you play the game of thrones…

Anna – So, Isabella, tired of her husband’s ill treatment and stupidity, took the country from him and ruled in his stead.

Mulan – She was a tough chick that knew what it took to gain and hold power.

Gaspar – Isabella was a tough, beautiful, charismatic and intelligent woman.  And she spoke with what I assume was a sexy French accent.

Buffalo – Way to keep it classy, Gaspar.

Gaspar – I do what I can. Also, let me add that Zach’ s book “Sins of Prometheus” is available on Amazon. It’s a zombie-free post apocalyptic adventure about a girl that goes in search of her brother. It’s pretty cool if you ask me.

Get it here. Sins of Prometheus.

 

Pine Leaf Woman

That's CHIEF Pine Leaf Woman to you!

That’s CHIEF Pine Leaf Woman to you!

Anna Komnene – Pine Leaf woman was a Native American Indian woman who became a famous warrior and then a chief.  Also, she was awesome.

Gaspar Correia – I could take her in a shooting competition.

Hua Mulan – I would not put money on that.

Anna – Yes, today we have another Fearless Woman of History here and with me today are Gaspar, Mulan and Olga of Kiev.

Olga – Saint Olga of Kiev, thanks you.

Anna – Of course.  Yes, today we’re talking about a brave Indian woman of the Northern Plains. She was born in 1806 to the Gros Venture  nation. Pronounced like “Gro Vaunt.” I had to look that up though I despise the barbaric language of Gaul. It’s Frankish for “Big Belly.” They were one of many nations pushed into the western Great Plains by the Iroquois Confederacy. (In a similar way to the Arapaho and Lakota.) That means they used to live along the Great Lakes in a settled agrarian lifestyle but when they lost their homes due to “Aggressive Land Acquisition” by the Iroquois, they became nomads and adapted the the harsh lifestyle.

Mulan – Let’s not linger on the Gros Venture because she was kidnapped at the age of ten by the Crow and after that she was counted as a Crow woman. As was the custom of many Native Americans, she was adopted by a man that had lost both his sons.  You may think that Pine Leaf Woman would resent her captors, but in this case the enemy of my enemy…  You see, the Crow were enemies of the Blackfoot. Pine Leaf Woman’s twin brother was killed by the Blackfoot and she had sworn at that young age to not take a husband until she had collected a hundred Blackfoot scalps. So, when she was captured the Crow found themselves with a young girl that didn’t want to play with dolls or do woman’s work, she wanted to fight.

Gaspar – Yes, our little girl had sworn revenge and wanted to use what her enemy feared the most against them and her adopted father became her Obi Wan Kenobi.

Gaspar - Okay, maybe more like Obi and Luke, not like Obi and Anikin.

Gaspar – Okay, maybe more like Obi and Luke, not like Obi and Anikin.

Mulan – Yes, Since she was a young girl she dedicated her life to practicing the art of warfare for the sake of revenge. This may seem… a tad extreme to some. But one must understand that this was her twin brother. I talked to Zach about this and he agreed that he’d go on a lifelong revenge fueled rampage if something happened to his twin brother.

Olga – Dah, I also went on rampage for dead husband. I burned whole city down.

Anna – So, what were the Crow to do? Now, this is where I must explain a few differences with Indian culture and how they thought of Women’s and men’s roles in society. Theirs was a society with set places for male and female roles. Men went out and did the hunting and fighting and women took care of the children and food preparation. It was an orderly society where everyone had a place and a purpose according to which role they played. The difference is, the male and female role had nothing to do with a person’s physical sex. A man could move into a woman’s role and everyone in the tribe would consider him as a woman. Also, a woman could grow up into a man’s role and she would hunt, go on war parties and have wives. For all intent and purpose, she would be a man to the tribe. Many women who were in the role of women also fought with men and went on raids as well, but most of them settled down when they married or had children.  The majority of people fell into the role their biological sex dictated, but Pine Leaf Woman was a little different. She maintained her female identity. She dressed like a woman and acted like a woman, but she did the jobs that the men did. When there was a war party, she’d be the first to volunteer. She became well know for being a good hunter and became skilled with the traditional weapons of hatchet, knife, spear and bow.  She also learned how to shoot muskets and was apparently a pretty good shot.

Gaspar – I could still take her.

Mulan – Yes, like me, this woman trained her whole life to fight. However, as a warrior she didn’t have time to deal with her lodge or prepare her food. She took four wives which shocked the white men that met her. One writer who met her tried desperately to woo her but to no avail. In his book he said he was successful but everyone agrees that it was totally made up because the guy was a douche and all his stories had such romantic inconsistencies… and he was chased out of camp soon after he was rejected.

Gaspar – Face it dude, she was into chicks. Time to move on.

Gaspar - I would tell you how she learned to be such a good fighter, but the first rule of the Warrior Lodge is, you do not talk about the Warrior Lodge.

Gaspar – I would tell you how she learned to be such a good fighter, but the first rule of the Warrior Lodge is, you do not talk about the Warrior Lodge.

Anna – So, our Sapphic heroine slowly gathered warriors around her and her popularity and fame grew. She led her followers on raids where she captured many ponies from rival tribes and nations, counted coup and started a rather impressive scalp collection. Now, counting coup was viewed as more impressive and brave than killing an enemy warrior outright. You had to run up to the enemy in a battle and hit him with a stick. It was a way to show that you weren’t afraid of them. Also, she took an enemy’s weapon during a battle and that was viewed as not only awesome, but also pretty humiliating for the enemy warrior.  In fact, she became so good at what she did, the Crow began composing songs about her.

Gapsar – I imagine them like Heavy Metal songs and the video would have her jumping in front of an explosion while shooting two guns at once.

Anna – You imagine most things like that.

Olga – Instead of pretty ornaments she collected scalps? Oh, I do like this woman, dah!

Mulan – According to one story, the Blackfoot attacked a fort where many Crow and white women and children were. She led the defense of the fort and fought back the Blackfoot. She killed three enemy warriors without a scratch. Having fought in armor myself, I can attest that that’s a difficult feat.

Gaspar – Soon the tribe couldn’t ignore how epic this woman was and offered her a seat on the Tribal Council. There they gave her a new name, “Woman Chief.” She didn’t have time for women’s work, she was too busy killing and taking charge. She was leading war parties like a BOSS. Let me specify: in one raid alone she stole 70 horses and there were 160 warrior lodges in the Crow nation. She was ranked #3 only after two very powerful and older chiefs. Yeah, that’s pretty hard core.

Sorry, Batwoman, Warrior Chief beat you to it by almost 200 years

Sorry, Batwoman, Warrior Chief beat you to it by almost 200 years

Anna – Woman Chief was by no means the only Indian woman warrior. There were many others.

Mulan – Another warrior woman was Brown Weasel Woman, also known as “Running Eagle.”

Olga – Why do Indians get all the cool names?

Yes, I spend an hour on my hair every morning, but then I spend the next eight hours learning how to wreck face. What do you do?

Yes, I spend an hour on my hair every morning, but then I spend the next eight hours learning how to wreck face. What do you do?

Mulan – Brown Weasel Woman was a Blackfoot woman who as a girl, asked for toy bows instead of dolls. She trained as a hunter and warrior and during one battle she saw her father get knocked off his horse. She charged into enemy fire, picked up her father and rode back to safety. To the Blackfoot, knowingly turning your back to an enemy was the ultimate act of bravery. They gave her the name of “Running Eagle” as a reward.

Gaspar - She's like a 25th level fighter with a +5 vorpal sword!

Gaspar – She’s like a 25th level fighter with a +5 vorpal sword!

Anna – But then Running Eagle’s mother became sick and she had to take over the woman’s work of the lodge. She disliked this and wanted to get back to shooting things dead. But after her mother died and her father died in a battle, she took the role as head of the family in order to take care of her brothers and sisters. So now she wore the pants in the family! During her next raid they went deep into Crow territory and and she personally stole eleven horses. With their loot they began to make their way back to friendly lines. During the night she had guard duty and some Crow came to get their horses back. She ran up and grabbed the horses reigns. When the Crow saw that she was a woman they didn’t think she was a threat and continued on. So, Running Eagle shot one of them, grabbed the dead man’s rifle and shot at the other guy who was now running for his life. In another battle she blocked two arrows with her shield and she got to get up during the war camps and tell war stories with the other crusty veterans.

But women cant' be in combat...oh...wait, I guess they can.

But women cant’ be in combat…oh…wait, I guess they can.

Gaspar – So, if anyone out there is looking for inspiration for  some tough, hard hitting women that have their own wives to take names for them because they’re too busy kicking butt, these are the women for you!

Mulan – Also, Don’t forget Zach’s new book, “Sins of Prometheus,” a zombie-free post apocalyptic story. Also, check us out on Facebook. (Leans in and whispers. ) And maybe add Anna as a friend. She doesn’t have very many.

Anna – I heard that!

History for the Fantasy and Sci-Fi writer

Zach – Welcome to Minimum Wage Historian. I’m doing this from Japan so I’m alone today.  Today’s topic is from a presentation I gave at ‘Life The Universe and Everything,’ a writer’s conference held in Provo Utah. This is from last February where I tried to dispell myths about medieval combat and warfare in general and tried to show how the realities of such warfare are actually very fascinating and could add depth, realism and drama to a fantasy story. Yes, fantasy, by definition can really do anything it pleases, but there still has to be logic behind what they do and this is why I’m here, to bring logic to fantasy (and sci-fi) combat. Too many times I’ve read a fantasy book where the two armies clash in mass blobs, everything gets into a confused mess and somehow the hero and villain end up facing each other.

Yeah, you know you've seen this a dozen times. King Aurther, Willow, Dark Knight Rises, and so on.

Yeah, you know you’ve seen this a dozen times. King Aurthur, Willow, Dark Knight Rises, and so on.

Well, it turns out that battles are actually a little more complex and organized than that. See, there these little things called strategy and tactics.  Think of strategy as the big picture and tactics as the finer details. Strategy is the war, why your army is invading and what they’re after, where are they going and how are they going to win the war. Tactics is what you do in the battle. What units are placed where and how they move and fight. Then there is the weapons and equipment which seldom seem to be done right.

I’ll deal with each in turn. Each one will depend on the nature of the civilization you are writing about. A democratic Elven Republic that uses trade to make itself powerful will recruit, train and use soldiers in a completely different way than a Theocratic Orkish Kingdom that focuses on agriculture.

So, let’s take some examples from history. Ancient Rome. At its height it spread from England to the Mid-East with dozens of vassal kingdoms as allies. Rome recruited soldiers from all over its Empire and sent them to legions far from home. So, a Sarmatian could be sent to serve in a legion stationed in Gaul. A Libyan could be sent to Greece and a Briton could be sent to garrison Jerusalem. Wherever they went, they were trained and equipped in a similar manner so that their unifying culture became the Roman Military. It no longer mattered where they were from, they were all Legionaries now and were expected to devote their (probably) short lives to the Legion. This was quite different from how just a few centuries later, Charles Martel would recruit his soldiers. At that time, France was mostly agricultural and the soldiers were no longer life long professionals. They were farmers that had nothing much to do when they weren’t farming. So, Martel recruited young farmers for his army, but had to send them back home so they could harvest their crops in time. So, Europe developed a “campaign season” based around the harvesting of crops. (And it sucks to fight in bad winter weather.) The Venetians had a completely different way to go about warfare. They were mostly a maritime power and every citizen that sailed was expected to train with the crossbow to learn how to defend their ships.  Warship captains also hauled and sold cargo on the side to earn a profit while at war. Their land battles were mostly done by mercenary armies because the Venetians themselves cared little for land.

Okay, let’s look at a fantasy example. Let’s take (and I’ll just be making this up as I go,) an Elven kingdom ruled by a woman who’s very powerful and has ruled as monarch for centuries.  Hers is an enlightened monarchy and her kingdom has enjoyed peace. Are there other races? Sure, how about some civilized trolls, minotaurs, harpies and some centaurs. Why not. But then the nearby human empire starts expanding and using ork mercenaries to launch raids. Oh oh, time for war. The enlightened ruler refuses to do a mass conscription and instead gives a heart rending speech to her people imploring them to sign up and fight for their land and liberty. (I’m sure it’d make a great scene in the book.)  Many sign up. Many don’t.  So, they get a small but very loyal and dedicated army. They use their tiny core of experienced veterans to train these new recruits in time for the human invasion. They have to integrate the different species as well. They put trolls and centaurs into their own units as heavy infantry and cavalry. Harpies become scouts and maybe light missile tropes.  The human army invades and is looking to take territory, so they start by taking cities. This is a mono-race army of only humans (maybe they’re racists) with little cavalry and many men in heavy armor and long pikes.  They move slowly but unstoppably. So, the Elven kingdom, afraid of a stand up field battle, uses its cavalry and scouts to harass the enemy and try to split them up and only after weakening them do they attempt a pitched battle. They are outnumbered 2 to 1 but they are fighting for their freedom and country and are side by side with their brothers and townsmen. The humans are out for plunder and “three hots and a cot.” They don’t really have a cause and don’t really care. They’re confident because they think elves are weak and haven’t really stood up to fight yet. The two armies clash.

Who wins?  Well, there’s a whole lot to go through before that question can be answered. That was just one example on how culture and civilization effects how a country fights. Does your country have access to a lot of horses? Dedicated war horses take a lot of land and grain to train and a lot of time and money to get the rider trained and kitted out. Medieval Japan did not have a lot of cavalry because they didn’t have the space to do it properly. The Mongols had nothing but open space.  The Byzantines made the space at the expense of their once powerful infantry legions. Even the battles of medieval knights were mostly infantry affairs. What about technology? Does your fantasy kingdom have a tech advantage over their enemies? Do they have siege cannons? Do they have crossbows? Repeating crossbows? Byzantine flame throwers?

The Byzantines used a cheat code and got flamethrowers and laser bears.

The Byzantines used a cheat code and got flamethrowers and laser bears.

What about population? China had a much, much larger population than Western Europe and as such had much larger armies. After the worst outbreak of Black Death in Medieval Europe during the Hundred Years War, we saw large armies shrink down to small raiding parties. Smaller armies also could mean that each man is much better equipped. Massive armies might only afford a shield and helmet for their men.

A feudal kingdom like the Holy Roman Empire was a collection of quarreling kingdoms that sometimes agreed to work together. The Turks used different types of troops from their different parts of their Empire so it was a mish mash of whatever they had.

Religion. Is your religion pacifist in nature? For example, The Byzantines were Christian and as such they actually avoided fighting far more than their Pagan ancestors and relied more heavily on strategy, subterfuge and simply paying their enemies off. Or, is your religion a blood thirsty one that delights in slaughtering heathens? Or is money the root of all happiness in your fantasy religion? Individualism or conformity? Honor or whatever gets victory?

So, do you see how the culture can affect your military? If you’re writing about battles, you have to have your culture fully fleshed out and understand how that changes the way they fight and wage war.

Now, the big picture: Strategy.

Here’s the thing, every battle has a purpose. Every army sets out to accomplish something. If an army sets out to invade a neighbor, what’s the best way to accomplish that? Are the cities fortified? Open? Or are the bases of power castles and forts outside the cities? Is farmland what they’re after or the control of rivers or mountain passes? Maybe islands or other centers of trade? Let’s look at Hannibal’s invasion of Italy. He was arguably one of the greatest generals of all time. He accomplished what so few generals in history have ever accomplished: the complete encirclement of a Roman army. Every battle he fought he completely annihilated the enemy to a humiliating degree. It was so bad that the Roman general Fabian refused to fight him face to face and just ran around Italy avoiding contact with Hannibal. So….why is western Europe speaking Latin based languages and not Cartheginian? Simple, Hannibal didn’t know what to do to win the war. After his shockingly amazing victory at Lake Trasimene the city of Rome, capitol of his enemy, was wide open to attack. There was maybe a couple of inept guards between him and the complete destruction of the Roman Republic. But he didn’t move.  He sat there and waited for the Romans to surrender. Meanwhile, Rome quickly gathered another army, trained them up and sent them out again.

This was an example of how no matter how brilliant you are or how powerful your army, if your strategy sucks, you’ll probably lose.

Here’s the main thing to know about strategy. If you only take away one thing from all of my ranting here, its this: Every army survives on its belly. In fantasy how many times have you seen depictions of vast armies of evil marching from horizon to horizon and everyone you see is warrior in black armor intent on death.

Looks cool, gotta admit that, but slightly impossible.

Looks cool, gotta admit that, but slightly impossible.

There’s a problem with that.

How do they eat? Armies travel on their bellies. Miss one too many meals and your army is either too weak to move or are ready to mutiny. An army that’s so friggin’ huge that it shakes the earth also has to have a baggage train almost as numerous as the soldiers. Armies require a lot of food and a lot of stuff. They’ll need blacksmiths and all that comes with it. They’ll need doctors, blankets, food, carts, tools, laundry stuff, LOTS of FOOD, weapons, armor horses, food for the horses, food, surveyors, accountants, food, money, lots of money, food, shoes, clothing and food. Sure, the initial shock invasion can travel light, but if the baggage train doesn’t meet up with them soon, they’re stranded and either dead or captured. (Examples: Blitzkrieg, Iraq War, Normandy, the First Crusade, etc.)

What I’m trying to say is that your entire strategy will revolve around logistics. The three ‘B’s’. Beans, blankets and bullets. (or blades if you’re writing fantasy.) Most of the time the army that gets the three B’s where they need to be, when they need to be there will win. Why did Nazi Germany focus on U-boat action around England? They wanted to cut off all supplies to starve them out. Why did Grant focus on the Mississippi in the Civil War? He wanted cut off the South’s main supply lines. Why did Lee’s army fight at Gettysburg? They were looking for shoes.

The ironic thing is, the bigger the army, the more vulnerable they are to logistics. A vast horde of unbeatable warriors can be beaten by cutting off their supply lines and leaving them cold and hungry. Look at Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Napoleon was undefeatable. His army could march over any three armies in Europe without pause. But the Russians didn’t have to fight him in the field. They just withdrew and let Napoleon come further in until his supply lines were stretched too thin and left him with nothing to find. This also worked against a certain German leader during the next century. So, in your fantasy book, you have an army of war trolls that the good guys can’t possibly beat in a fight? Starve them out. Burn the crops before them and attack their baggage trains and supply lines.  The three B’s.

Look at Joan of Arc’s first heroic battle at Orleans. Why was that city so important? A novice writer will say, “its an important city” and leave it at that. But the reason Joan knew she had to keep Orleans from falling was that it was a transportation link between the Dauphin’s territories. Cut that link and each part would be essentially cut off from resupply or reinforcements. It was about the three B’s.

I know Logistics doesn’t sound sexy for a fantasy story, but it can add a lot of plot and reasons to fight. Maybe your heroes need a port to allow their navy to resupply them? Maybe they want to stop the enemy from getting their horses so they go take the city where most of their warhorses come from. Maybe the enemy is after the part of the country where most of the good guys’ food is grown.  Maybe the Troll army is running for the granary silos or pig farms and the heroes have to stop them from getting to the food. Either way its a reason to fight instead of “because they’re there.”  It’ll add motive and make the world seem more real.

This is the reason that most of Medieval warfare was based around sieges. It was a cheap way to destroy the enemy. You surround them and wait and see who runs out of supplies or gets sick the fastest. Look through Medieval history and you’ll see that many battles were sieges. They were far more common than most realize and they were often fairly mundane and boring affairs. But if you want a siege that is truly epic, look at the siege of Malta and the defense of the Knights of St. John.

But, Zach, sometimes armies fight just to kill the other army!

Yes, I know, and in those cases, the three B’s get a fourth, ‘bodies.’ The side that will win will the side that can throw the most beans, blankets blades and bodies into the fray. WWI is a good example of this. In that war, the object was to win by pure attrition. Objectives were excuses to maul and wear down the enemy army. Germany lost because they just couldn’t keep the (4) B’s going. They failed to strangle England and then America jumps in with ship loads of the (4) B’s.  This is a particularly brutal and pointless form of warfare and if you want to write a dark, gritty fantasy/sci-fi war, this is an interesting model, but remember, the men fighting at the front are just a part of it. The other half of the war is the flow of food, weapons, supplies and bodies. But you run the risk of making the war seem like the same every day, which it would be. Unless you’re going for some depressing artsy kinda book, I’d stick to a more maneuver based form of warfare where more things than attrition matter. The reader will thank you.

Okay, if done right it could actually be really cool and I'd read the heck out of it. But its tricky to do.

Okay, if done right it could actually be really cool and I’d read the heck out of it. But its tricky to do.

Right, on to Tactics! This is the second most important thing to remember when dealing with battle scenes. What we see in movies and most books is two blob armies facing off, a heroic speech from the hero, then the two blobs crash into each other and everyone is mixed in with everyone and the heroism of the good guys wins out.

Um…no. Not really. Even the most barbaric of barbarians used tactics. Take the Goths that invaded Rome. They didn’t fight in a huge blob. They circled their enormous wagons and placed infantry in between the openings. Then their cavalry would sally out, attack the enemy and retreat back inside their mobile fort.  The Goths that fought in the West adopted Roman styles of warfare very quickly. The Mongols had very sophisticated tactics that required precision timing and communication. Their horse archers would charge forward, unleash arrows and charge back in a continuing circle of raining death. The Byzantines would march their infantry slowly while their heavy cavalry would charge, hammer into the enemy and come back behind the safety of the infantry. They’d repeat this until they wore down the enemy with heavy cavalry charges. (That usually didn’t take very long.)

What tactics your army uses will depend on the type of army which depends on the society. Where they fight will depend on the strategy and logistics of theirs and the enemy’s army. Its all interconnected.

Okay, let’s look at how ancient and medieval armies actually fought.

There was a reason they formed lines of different units and there was a reason each unit was placed where they were. Let’s take a look.

Here's a typical battle formation for two opposing armies. The infantry in the middle where a lot of fighting is going to be. The archers are on the flanks (or sometimes behind) to provide missile support and maybe light skirmishers. The cavalry is places on the flanks so they can move out and attack the weak flanks or other weak spots as they appear. The reserves are there to plug up holes and make sure the enemy doesn't break through.

Here’s a typical battle formation for two opposing armies. The infantry in the middle where a lot of fighting is going to be. The archers are on the flanks/sides (or sometimes behind) to provide missile support and maybe light skirmishers. The cavalry is placed on the flanks so they can move out and attack the weak flanks or other weak spots as they appear. The reserves are there to plug up holes and make sure the enemy doesn’t break through.

Right, pretty simple. Now this is where it gets complex. Once the two armies engage, arrows start flying to cause casualties and expose weak spots. The infantry have to progress in formation and not break the line. Here’s why. If there’s a break, enemy can move through and now they’re free to attack the sides and backs of the infantry where they are exposed. This can cause catastrophic problems and often causes a “roll up” where an entire infantry unit is destroyed or sent running by enemy using a break in their line to enter in where they are weak and basically attack their soft spots.

That’s why you have reserves. In many movies (First Knight, Braveheart, to name a few) the reserves are treated like an extra army you just kinda have waiting off to the side and then as a tactical genius the general says “Send in the Reserves!!” and suddenly that side wins because they had an extra army. No. Both sides would have reserves to prevent those super lethal breaks in the line. If they saw an area faltering, the reserves would charge in and support that weak spot. Or, if the flanks were being weakened by a cavalry charge, the reserves would counter-charge the enemy cavalry and save the flank. If the flank falls, then the whole army is in danger of being rolled up.

At Gettysburg, the battle at Little Round top was defended by Chamberlain so heroically because he knew that the flank had to hold or the whole Union army was in danger. Flanks had to be defended and attacked. If you can get a flank you can destroy the entire enemy army. Alexander the Great preferred to charge right down the center. He broke through the infantry to get to the enemy commander. Daring but risky.

Now, Cavalry vs Infantry. This is something that’s also horribly misrepresented in movies and books.  Movies show cavalry as unstoppable juggernaughts that roll over everything. Not quite. Cavalry can smash into and scatter certain unprepared infantry units. Frankish cavalry charges broke Muslim infantry numerous times during the First crusade. But there’s an easy way to counter a cavalry charge by the fiercest horsemen.

Pikes.

Yes, during much of the Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and up through to almost the modern age, pikes were the #1 weapon of choice for infantry. Pikes could keep swordsmen at bay and make cavalry charges useless. A horse charging into a wall of spikes will do nothing but get impaled.

Now, light cavalry was used to scout the enemy positions and movements. An essential job. They were also used to harass enemy archers and supply lines.

Cavalry archers could fire and move away before infantry could ever reach them. They could attack and never be attacked in return. The answer was to have cavalry of your own to chase them down or have better missile weapons than them. An army without cavalry was a sitting duck to cavalry armies, something the Roman legions of the West learned too late. The Eastern Romans adapted and their Byzantine armies emphasized cavalry much more than their destroyed Western brethren.

The Swiss Pikemen were some of the most feared infantry in the Middle Ages for a reason. Heavy armor and long pikes. A running wall of death heading straight at you. Yeah, kinda scary.

The Swiss Pikemen were some of the most feared infantry in the Middle Ages for a reason. Heavy armor and long pikes. A running wall of death heading straight at you. Yeah, kinda scary.

You can’t really have a Medieval army without pikes or spears.

Bows weren’t used nearly as widely as movies suggest. Most armies used crossbows and even then not very much. The English were the exception and they used the famed English Long Bow against the French to great effect.

So, now let’s see how this all worked together.

The cavalry charge forward under the cover of missile fire and advancing infantry. The either fight enemy cav or go for exposed flanks or whatever else looks juicy. If they see reserves coming at them, they high tail it out of there and go back and then return to attack a little while later.

The cavalry charge forward under the cover of missile fire and advancing infantry. The either fight enemy cav or go for exposed flanks or whatever else looks juicy. If they see reserves coming at them, they high tail it out of there and go back and then return to attack a little while later. (Okay, not a pretty drawing, but hey.)

But what if one army has a longer line and tries to envelope the other army? Well, then the other army has to lengthen its formations to keep that from happening but risk thinning their lines too much. Its a fine line of long formations versus thickness. Too short and you get surrounded. Too thin and they’ll break through your center. No easy answer because it’ll depend on the situation. A good general will be able to judge what is necessary.

I hope I’ve given you a better idea about how a real Medieval style battle will go instead of just two blobs running at each other and screaming.

Now, weapons and armor.

Certain kinds of armor stop certain kinds of weapons. There are no universals when it comes to weapons and armor. For example. Chain mail is cheap, easy to make and works very well against slashing weapons. But its weak against piercing weapons like spears and arrows. Its also useless against blunt weapons like clubs and maces. The blows will still break every bone under the chain mail.

Scale/lamallar armor is great, but has one weakness. The direction of the scales. If the scales are pointed down, an upward thrust will go through. The Byzantine cavalry angled their armor scales up in order to protect against infantry.

A Byzantine Cataphract in full, multi-layered armor. Felt, lamallar/scale, and chainmail beneath. He was as armored as you got without using plate.

A Byzantine Cataphract in full, multi-layered armor. Felt, lamallar/scale, and chainmail beneath. He was as armored as you got without using plate.

Felt/wool armor. Yes, I’m serious. This stuff stops arrows like kevlar stops bullets, but is useless against stabby and hitty things. Byzantines would put wool/felt armor over or under their metal armor for multiple levels of protection.

Plate armor. Now, I’ve seen in too many movies where an axe or even a sword goes through plate armor. Just no. Swords will bounce off and axes might dent if if you’re lucky. So, if you’re writing a story and a character has plate armor, he’s basically impervious to most things. The only way to stop someone in plate armor is to get in the cracks like the armpit, the neck or eye slits. (Or groin if you’re not nice.)  Something really peircy might penetrate like an armor piercing crossbow bolt at close range or a really big lance going very fast.

And a suit of full plate was far more maneuverable than one might think. The weight distribution was excellent for a fitted suit of armor and the wearer could get up, roll around and mount horses at will. The idea of the knight being hoisted into their saddle is a Victorian myth.  So, if your plucky thief character comes across a noble in plate armor, he has three choices, get out his dagger and go for a gap in his armor, get a mace and smash him, or run. The first two involve risking fight with a trained warrior and you’ll get one shot. The fourth option is to get a bunch of your buddies and dog pile the person in plate armor.

This is a man who's trained since he was a child in the art of fighting. He's wearing the best armor possible and he's ready for you. Your pluck and dagger won't be enough.

This is a man who’s trained since he was a child in the art of fighting. He’s wearing the best armor possible and he’s ready for you. Your pluck and dagger won’t be enough.

So, what level of technology does your civilization have? That will determine what kind of weapons and armor they have. Do they have simple bows, recurve? Crossbows?  How good is their metallurgy? Sword fights weren’t fights where the two characters bang away at each other’s swords. Swords broke and chipped easily when you did that. They either used shields and tried to get in through an opening or they used their swords more like staves and clobbered each other with the pommel. Against unarmored opponents, sure, hack and slash away, but a fight between two armored foes was a brutal affair.

Also, plate armor is friggin’ expensive and hard to make. Each suit had to be tailored to the wearer with exact measurements or the suit wouldn’t fit or move right and become more of a hindrance.

Samurai armor offered a great deal of maneuverability with moderate protection. They were hard to make because of the complexity of each suit and was handed down through the generations as symbols of prestige.

Three dudes you do not want to mess with. Each one will explode on you with a flash of yelling and sharp steel. These were men that did not take warfare lightly.

Three dudes you do not want to mess with. Each one will explode on you with a flash of yelling and sharp steel. These were men that did not take warfare lightly.

So, have you figured out your society? That will determine what weapons and armor they use? Do they have massive armies with simple to produce but not very protective armor? Elaborate and highly protective armor just for the nobles? Breastplates and helmets for everyone like the did in the English Civil War and colonization of America? The armor will determine the weapons and that might affect how the units behave on the battlefield. Different tactics for different foes. In the Army we had something called “METT”  Mission, Equipment, Time and Terrain. Basically that said that the situation dictates what you do. What’s the mission you have to do? What equipment do you and the enemy have? What factor does time play? Do you need to hurry and get somewhere? Beat them before sundown or hold them off until reinforcements arrive like at Waterloo?  What’s the terrain? Are you on a hill like King Aurthur at Baden Hill or are you caught between the enemy and a lake like the Romans at Lake Trasemene? Do you charge down the hill with bayonets like Chamberlain at Gettysburg?

Confused? I hope not.

Confused? I hope not.

That’s a whole lot to think about when writing your story, but each one adds possibilities to add to your story and add depth and reality.  It forces you to flush out your society which will in turn shape everything around your characters. A battle where they have a definite goal they have to do and fight a certain way, “Hold the line until our allies can join us!” Is much more memorable that [The horde charged and we charged and there in the middle of the chaos I saw Demonitor. And so we started our fated duel! But then Demonitor shouted out, "Send in the Reserves!!" And I knew all was lost!]

So, get thinking and then start writing. And for heaven’s sake, finish it!

Zach’s new book

Anna – Oh, Zach insisted that I mention that his new book, “Sins of Prometheus” is out now and that you should purchase it at your leisure. It’s a ….hold on, I wrote it down here…oh, its a “post-apocalyptic” story.  I’m not entirely sure what that is, but he says that its exciting. A young woman travels across a desolate America to find her brother and faces other survivors of the plague. Some are friendly and others are decidedly not.

You can buy it here. Sins of Prometheus.

Olga - By Zachski's book or I burn you house down.

Olga – By Zachski’s book or I burn you house down.

Princess Theophanu

She took over the Holy Roman Empire and showed those barbarians how to do the whole "Imperial Power" thing right.

She took over the Holy Roman Empire and showed those barbarians how to do the whole “Imperial Power” thing right.

Anna Komnene – We’re back with another great discussion about a topic I chose.  Zach sent us a little history of Fukui, the city he’s currently living in. It had something to do with castles, a son of Tokugawa and a phoenix, but honestly, I didn’t read it all. Why talk about that when we can talk about something actually interesting?

Matilda of Tuscany – Actually, I thought Zach’s information was quite fascinating.

Anna – And that’s why you’re not the host, because you’re boring.

Olga of Kiev – I miss Zach-ski.

Gaspar Correia – Really? You do?

Olga – Of course! He was nice man that wore toga and shouted about hot pockets. I like hot pockets.

Gaspar – No, that was Julius Caesar. Zach had the bald head and goatee and drew the pictures.

Olga – I no remember him.

Anna – You don’t need to.  Now, today we’re talking about something near to my heart.

Gaspar – You have one?

Anna – Why must it be “illegal” to have someone’s nose cut off? This so-called “modern age” is very inconvenient. But yes, we are talking about Princess Theophanu of Byzantium. (Sometimes Theophano.) When a powerful Byzantine lady makes a mark on history, I shall pay attention! But our story begins to the west of the Eastern Roman Empire, we look to Germany and the leader, Otto I. Now, if we remember, the Frankish upstart, Charlemagne united a bunch of barbaric Frankish lands into one large kingdom that covered most of France and Germany and Italy. He was crowned “Emperor of the Romans” in Rome on Christmas day in the year 800 AD.  Well, after his death, his “empire” fractured between rival factions.  Well, his descendents never forgot the Western Roman Empire or Charlemagne’s claim to the supremacy of the Roman throne. So, along comes this Otto fellow who manages to unite Germans into one single empire again and calls it the “Holy Roman Empire.” It would last from 296 to 1806 when Napoleon ended it.

Matilda – Well, there are three things wrong with that title. Holy? Not hardly. Though Otto did finally defeat the invading Magyars and ended their invasion of Western Europe. (They settled in Hungary and became the Hungarians.) And for defeating the pagan Magyars, Otto was called the Savior of Christendom. But still, a political aristocracy that murders to maintain power, I hardly call Holy. Besides, they invaded my beloved Italy and attacked my homeland. So, no. Not holy.

Gaspar – I also must say that they weren’t Roman either. But why claim that name? Simple, they claimed to be the spiritual successor to the might, power and prestige of Rome.  But, the fact was, they were the super power in the west so they could claim that title without dispute.  Now, this didn’t go down well with our Eastern Roman friends, the Byzantines. They saw it as barbarians playing dress up.

Olga – Oh, is my turn, dah? Okay, okay. (clears throat) They no Empire either. They just a big kingdom with many dukes that fight each other for power. Sometimes they listen to emperor, sometimes no. Not Empire.

A fair chunk of land. They spent more time fighting each other than other countries. Though, in their time they did fight off the Magyars, the Turks and the Mongols.

A fair chunk of land. They spent more time fighting each other than other countries. Though, in their time they did fight off the Magyars, the Turks and the Mongols.

Anna – Very good, Olga. You’ll make a great historian one day. So, Otto I has his big kingdom he calls an empire ready to go, but he lacks one thing. He lacks prestige. Sure, he has power and the armies to demand respect, but he needs a link to a real Empire and a real legacy. Well, the only choice he had was to turn to the Eastern Roman Empire, the continuation of the Roman Empire that he so haughtily claimed the title to. So, when he had a son, Otto II, he decided to ask Constantinople for a princess to marry and gain that imperial prestige.

Matilda – There was one problem, the Byzantine Emperor wasn’t too keen on sending his imperial daughter to live with a bunch of upstart barbarians. Otto demanded no less than his daughter, Anna. (Not to be confused with Anna Komnene here.) The Byzantine emperor flatly rejected such a preposterous notion and instead offered Otto the daughter of his brother in law from his first marriage. Not exactly the daughter to an emperor, but Otto figured “Hey, its a Byzantine princess. Good enough,” and accepted.

Byzantine emperor is not impressed by your filthy little kingdom.

Byzantine emperor is not impressed by your filthy little kingdom.

Olga – He sent little niece to nasty Germans? She was only twelve, dah?

Anna – I’m impressed, Olga. You did your homework this time. Yes, she was only twelve but Otto just wanted the connection to the Roman Empire. The rest he didn’t care about.  So, little princess Theophanu was sent to Rome to meet and marry Otto II. The was more than a simple wedding. This was the uniting of the two great superpowers of their day and the pomp and ceremony was unrivaled in Western Europe. She had a huge entourage that included skilled artists and craftsmen from Constantinople. It was a most impressive display.

The wedding document still exists. It was written on purple paper with gold ink. This was as swanky as it got back then. This kind of document was reserved only for the most important of occasions and the birth of an imperial dynasty was one of those occasions.

The wedding document still exists. It was written on purple paper with gold ink. This was as swanky as it got back then. This kind of document was reserved only for the most important of occasions and the birth of an imperial dynasty was one of those occasions.

Here's their wedding portrait. Otto II and Theophanu. Its better than most of the sappy wedding photos I've seen.

Here’s their wedding portrait. Otto II and Theophanu. Its better than most of the sappy wedding photos I’ve seen.

Matilda – They were crowned Emperor and Empress of Rome by the Pope in 972. Not bad. Now, being crowned “empress” was as high as it got. She wasn’t just “wife of the emperor.” No, sir. She was full Empress with legal and political power. also, Otto II’s mother was also crowned empress so, they were on equal footing and the two of them didn’t exactly see eye to eye on a lot of things. Her mother in law, Adelaide, called her “that Greek woman.” But the next year, Otto I died and suddenly Theophano was wife of the sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.  Now, she was Empress, yes, but she wasn’t very popular. A Benedictine monk called her an unpleasant and talkative woman. But then again, to a Benedictine monk, maybe most women were talkative and unpleasant.

Anna – Well, those German barbarians just didn’t know how to take culture and sophistication. They claimed she was “decadent” because she took baths every day, wore perfume and jewelry that was finer than anything they had. And one of her worst offenses, and I scarce say this in mixed company for the scandal of it, but when she ate, she didn’t use her hands but a…a fork!

Gaspar – Oh, the humanity!

Anna – I’m afraid so, my fellow historians. Theophanu bathed and didn’t eat with her hands. Horrible, I know.

Matilda – I am shocked!

Anna – Well, apparently their marriage was a somewhat happy one because they had five children. One of them would become Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor. Well, life as Holy Roman Empress was a mobile one. The Germans hadn’t gotten the hang of having a stationary capital, so their court moved around from place to place. She had been trained since birth to play the game of politics and she was smart and very intelligent. She was no passive trophy wife. She even traveled with her husband on military campaigns and signed her name on legal documents.

Matilda – But then in 983, 11 years after becoming emperor, Otto II died suddenly leaving his wife and three year old Otto III in a somewhat precarious position. Theophanu knew that if she did nothing, the German nobles would walk all over her and her son and seize the throne for themselves. So, quickly had Otto crowned emperor and named herself as Empress regent. That’s a fancy term for “My son is the emperor, but really control everything.”

Gaspar - Theophanu also unleashed one of her dowery gifts, the enchanted dragon automatons of destruction. These mechanical behomaths ensured that the German dukes would stay in line!

Gaspar – Theophanu also unleashed one of her dowry gifts, the enchanted dragon automatons of destruction. These mechanical behemoths ensured that the German dukes would stay in line!

Anna – No, she didn’t need giant cyborg dragons, Gaspar, she had something better. She had a brain and the courage to use it. For two years she actually had to share the throne with her mother-in-law. The only thing those two agreed on was the safety and future of Otto III. In that they were united. But then Theophanu took the throne as sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. So, think about that for a moment. This 12 year old princess from Constantinople comes Germany as a trophy wife and ends up ruling the whole place. Not a small feat by anyone’s standards.

Matilda – Yeah, the German dukes and barons didn’t like her, but that was because she was more sophisticated and maybe more intelligent than them and they didn’t like being told what to do by a woman.

Gaspar – Hold on, I think I have a picture of one of these barons….

Matilda - Well, that's A baron, not exactly...never mind.

Matilda – Well, that’s A baron, not exactly…never mind.

Olga – So, did Theofa..fa..Theo kill peoples?

Anna – No, she didn’t have to. She ruled by her strong will and quick thinking.

Olga – No burning cities?

Anna – No.

Olga – (sighs) Okay then.

Here's a statue of her in Germany where she's buried. So, the German dynasty has a Byzantine princess to thank for their stable continuance.  Didn't teach that in school, did they?

Here’s a statue of her in Germany where she’s buried. So, the German dynasty has a Byzantine princess to thank for their stable continuance. Didn’t teach that in school, did they?

Olga – Don’t forget to like us and the Bookface, dah? Do it or I burn you house down.

Matilda – Also check out Zach’s history book based off our adventures here at Minimum Wage Historian. Fearless: Powerful Women of History!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catherine the Great

They see her rollin', they hatin'.

They see her rollin’, they hatin’.

Anna – Welcome again to Minimum Wage Historian, now under my supreme authority. I, Anna Komnene am the unquestionable autocrat of this blog. Zach is still away in Japan and shall be for some time.
Mulan – You know he reads everything we post, right?
Anna – What’s he going to do about it? Send me a nasty E-mail?
Joan – I do not sink zat he will be very happy, quoi?
Anna – Well, my dear Joan D’Arc, I will deal with Zach, one way or another. I shall use my charms against him.
Joan – Ziss is not a good idea.
Gaspar – Just let her have her fun for now. What harm is it doing?
Olga – Anna, did you remember nachos? I like these so-called nacho stuff. Is very good, dah?
Anna – And unlike Zach, I bring refreshments every time.
Mulan – Well, today we have a fitting subject. A woman who launched a coup and successfully took over Russia and led it through its golden age.
Anna – And this will be the golden age of Minimum Wage Historian.
Gaspar – I think she may have lost it. Its a sad day when I have to lead the discussion. Okay, lets begin. Catherine was born in 1729 in the German kingdom of Pomerania. She came from a noble blood line, but had little money. So, they looked to marry their daughter, Sophia, off to the best bidder. Well, in Russia, the daughter of Peter the Great led a successful coup and took over control of all Russia. She was a merciless ruler that reigned with terror and harshness. She also had a nephew that needed a wife. His name was Peter III and he was the heir. They chose Sophia and had her sent to St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia. An offer like that was one her family could not refuse. Empress of Russia? Yes please.
Mulan – Peter the Great had turned Russia into a modern world power and brought it kicking and screaming out of the Dark Ages. Now there were palaces anywhere and Empress Elizabeth had the largest dress collection in Europe. The language at court was French and they tried really hard to be sophisticated. Catherine was underwhelmed by their sophistication.

Not a shabby place to live. Maybe a bit uncouth, but still homey.

Not a shabby place to live. Maybe a bit uncouth, but still homey.

Anna – Well, Russia was trying to emulate the glory of The Roman Empire. Naturally they fell short but even aspiring to that leaves one with some glory worthy of notice.
Joan – Beware of ze pride, Anna.
Anna – Yes, yes, of course. So, princess Sophia from Germany finally arrives in St. Petersburg and meets her new fiance. He’s a scrawny, sickly thing with all the maturity of an eight year old. All he cares about is playing with his toy soldiers and bragging about how great he is. He also didn’t really like Russia. He was a Lutheran and admired the Prussians, especially Fredrick the Great who at that time was no friend of Russia’s. She also met the future mother in law. Empress Elizabeth was an intimidating figure and Sophia knew that she had to impress this woman and stay on her good side if she was going to succeed in Russia.
Mulan – Sophia knew that Peter was unimportant. She needed to impress the mother in law so she learned Russian as fast as she could. She mastered it in a short time, though she’d have a German accent all her life. She also converted to Russian Orthodoxy.
Anna – Of course she did! Orthodoxy is the one…
Mulan – Anna, please, not now. As I was saying, she converted to Orthodoxy and her name was changed to Catherine. In short, she did everything she could to become a Russian so the people would accept her. she was only a teenager but she knew what she needed to do.
Gaspar – Life wasn’t all expensive clothing and fine meals. There was some odd things in the palace. Empress Elizabeth held weakly balls where everyone had to dress as the opposite sex. It was mandatory and most people hated it. The Empress even commented to Catherine “had I been born a man, it would be you that would receive the apple.”
Mulan – Awkward.
Gaspar – That’s not the worst of it. The court also happened to be flat out dangerous as crap. There were factions all throughout the court and the rivalries were sometimes violent and always dangerous. If Catherine was to survive she would have to navigate through the courtly factions.

All fun and games until someone ends up thrown in a dungeon where they're starved to death.

All fun and games until someone ends up thrown in a dungeon where they’re starved to death.

Anna – Catherine had no allies and no one to help her. She was an outsider. The fact that she survived was proof that she was both intelligent and charming. Not only could she get people to fall in love with her, but she was also the smartest person in the room.
Joan – When she was seventeen, she got married. Qui, she married ze loser Peter. Zay did not like each other and on… I cannot say ziss part.
Gaspar – I’ll do it. On their wedding night, Catherine went up to the room to wait for Peter. She kept waiting and kept waiting. Five hours later Peter stumbled in, drunk and promptly passed out.
Joan – Sank you, Gaspar. I blush at ze thought. Catherine was insulted! She was very angry. This continued for long time. Peter would just ignore ze poor Catherine. She grew bitter and angry against Peter. Also, Peter continued to be ze child. He played with his toy soldiers and even made ze poor Catherine stand guard for hours with a musket. But Catherine was, as zay say, stuck. If she angered Peter, he could banish her to a convent or worse. Cut off her head!
Anna – Yes, she was stuck with Peter. She was his wife and that gave her some status and that meant some protection.
Gaspar – Oh, and just to make things worse, Peter got small pox that disfigured is already unremarkable face.

Yeah, he was a sissy boy. Nowadays he'd be the nerd living in his mom's basement thinking he's hard core because he plays Call of Duty.

Yeah, he was a sissy boy. Nowadays he’d be the nerd living in his mom’s basement thinking he’s hard core because he plays Call of Duty.

Mulan – Now that she was ignored by her husband and the court, she found that she had plenty of free time on her hands. So, she began to read. And read and read. She read the philosophers of the time and believed in the ideals of the Enlightenment. Especially Voltaire. She even began writing letters to Voltaire and though they never met, they considered each other friends. She wanted desperately to be the enlightened Monarch that the Enlightenment spoke of.
Gaspar – She also really liked history.
Anna – A woman after my own heart. We need to get her here.
Olga – She was born German, but I like her. She can be Russian.
Gaspar – How charitable of you, Olga.

Catherine getting her learning on.  See, she didn't get to be empress of Russia by being stupid. She read books and learned from them. "Read books and you too can rule Russia!" I think that should be the new literacy slogan in schools.

Catherine getting her learning on. See, she didn’t get to be empress of Russia by being stupid. She read books and learned from them. “Read books and you too can rule Russia!” I think that should be the new literacy slogan in schools.

Anna – But there was another problem. Her one and only duty was to bear children. Elizabeth had seized power in a coup and to legitimize her claim, she needed heirs to cement the dynasty. Though Elizabeth was highly promiscuous, she had no heirs of her own.
Joan – What is ziss word, “promis-cu-us?”
Gaspar – Um… it means, she eats a lot.
Anna – Nice save, Gaspar.
Gaspar – I live to serve.
Anna – No you don’t.
Gaspar – You’re right. I just didn’t want to hear another sermon. At least she’s Catholic though.
Joan – What are you talking about?
Gaspar – Nothing.

Joan - King of Heaven, why must my co-hosts be so vile and slanderous? Please forgive zem, for I shall not!

Joan – King of Heaven, why must my co-hosts be so vile and slanderous? Please forgive zem, for I shall not!

Anna – So, Catherine had to produce an heir, but Peter would not…um…do his duty. So, a “Plan B” was developed by Empress Elizabeth. After eight yeas, Elizabeth noticed that a certain young nobleman was paying Catherine a lot of attention. She encouraged this and hinted to Catherine that she had a higher duty to the crown that martial fidelity. This was a green light for Catherine and for the first time, she fell in love. Soon after, Catherine found herself pregnant.
Joan – So, Peter finally did his duy, quoi?
Gaspar – Sure….
Mulan – She gave birth to a boy and Elizabeth took the boy away to raise herself.
Olga – What a rude woman! I would never let someone else take my child!
Anna – She had no choice. If Elizabeth got angry with her, she’d throw her in a cell and lose the key.
Mulan – She was trapped and had no say. Then her lover was promptly shipped away to a far corner of the Russian Empire. Catherine was also forgotten about. Having provided an heir, she was no longer important. No one questioned who the father was. So, she was completely alone. Catherine did not sit around, write vampire poetry and bemoan her station, she got to work. She began building alliances and making friends at court. She befriended the English ambassador who gave her a gift of a lot of money which she used to buy informants at court.
Anna – She also became pregnant again. It was certainly not Peter’s child and Peter, though he didn’t care about Catherine, started to grow unbearable and angry. He began to anger everyone at court with his immature and rude behavior. He also estranged the Russian nobles by remaining close to the Prussians, Russia’s enemy at the time.
Joan – One of her new friends was a man named Orlav. Dis Orlov was captain of ze Guard and a very dashing man. He and two brothers were very popular and had power. Orlov was ze soldier, and a dashing man. Catherine became friends with him.
Gaspar – And by friends we mean…well…you get the picture.
Joan – What picture?

Think of a mafia hitman in fancy clothes. "Ya need someone whacked Cat? Yeah, me and my boys can handle that. We'll fit 'em for cement shoes."

Think of a mafia hitman in fancy clothes. “Ya need someone whacked, Cat? Yeah, me and my boys can handle that. We’ll fit ‘em for cement shoes.”

Anna – Orlov was no great thinker or political strategist, but what he was was muscle. Karl Mark said “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” The Orlov brothers were her gun.
Mulan – But then Elizabeth died and her great protector was gone. At the funeral she wore black and meant it. Peter on the other hand giggled throughout the ceremony. Also, now that he was Tzar, he withdrew Russia’s armies from Prussia, gave back all the territory they had won and he even dressed his soldiers in Prussian uniforms. I for one could not tolerate this! That would be like dressing me up as a Mongol! I’d die first.
Anna – Or me as a Frank.
Joan – Pardon? What iz wrong with ze Franks?
Anna – Nothing at all. Let’s get back to Catherine, shall we? Peter was busy angering every class, faction, group and organization in Russia and people were growing tired of his idiocy. So, Russian nobles started talking. The wanted to get rid of Peter in a hurry and the only other person they could think of that they all could agree on was Catherine. She was smarter than them and they finally realized it.
Mulan – This was a very dangerous time for Catherine. One word to the wrong person and her plots would become known to Peter and she’d be executed. She made careful plans and took a long time in gathering the people she could trust. Then one night, Orlov came and woke her up in the middle of the night. One of their conspirators had been arrested and it was a matter of time before he cracked and gave away the plan. If they were going to survive, they had to launch the coup right then and there. Catherine agreed. It was all or nothing.
Gaspar – This is when Catherine pulled the ace out of her sleeve.

She unleashed the secret Automatons of Destruction! These alchemical monsters had giant cannons and were impervious to weapons. Just one could destroy whole regiments of soldiers. Sure, the Tzar's body guard had the best sorcerers in the kingdom, but they were no match.

She unleashed the secret Automatons of Destruction! These alchemical monsters had giant cannons and were impervious to weapons. Just one could destroy whole regiments of soldiers. Sure, the Tzar’s body guard had the best sorcerers in the kingdom, but they were no match.

Joan – I sink Gaspar is lying. You know where liars are thrust down to, no?
Olga – Oh! What happened next?
Gaspar – There was a terrible fight in the streets of St. Petersburg that saw half the city destroyed.
Anna – Or Catherine fled her villa where she had been staying separate from her husband and gathered the palace guard in St. Petersburg. Catherine knows that if she does not overthrow Peter, he would eventually get rid of her. She also knew that she would be a much better ruler than him and also knew that the nobility were desperate to get rid of Peter. It was a perfect storm of opportunity that she grabbed without hesitation. So, Catherine jumped in her royal carriage and had her hair done on the way. She had to look good for her revolution!
Joan – It is important to look ze part when a person is in charge. I changed my hair and put on ze men’s clothing to command my soldiers.
Mulan – I can relate to that.

I don't tolerate people messing with me. It's only my military discipline that keeps me from leaping across this table and strangling Gaspar.

I don’t tolerate people messing with me. It’s only my military discipline that keeps me from leaping across this table and strangling Gaspar.

Gaspar – I don’t need clothes to prove I’m awesome. I have this ferocious beard to do that for me.
Olga – I have my flame thrower.
Anna – The pen is mightier than all of those. Even the beard. Catherine arrived at the guard barracks to St. Petersburg at dawn and tells the men there that Peter is a threat to Russia and if they wanted Russia not to fall into the hands of Prussia, they needed to support her. The guards fell to their knees and pledged their loyalty on the spot. Then Catherin dresses in a palace guard’s uniform, big hat, coat, riding boots and all. Yeah, she looked awesome.

She dressed as a man and basically said she was more of a man than her loser husband.

She dressed as a man and basically said she was more of a man than her loser husband.

Mulan – The army when they see her, proclaim her Catherine II, Empress of Russia. She promptly had Peter, who was clueless, arrested and a few days later he was strangled to death by his guards. There is no evidence that Catherine ordered the hit. He had a long list of enemies. Peter III had reigned for only six months.
Olga – He was no Russian. (spits)
Anna – They called her “Empress Regent” and assumed that she’d hold power until her son was old enough to reign.
Gaspar – Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Anna – No, she reigned until her death. Technically, she was an usurper and had no legal right to the throne and there were factions within the court that wanted the throne as a kind of constitutional monarchy. Catherine had to keep her throne and head during the first few trying years. she had to show that she was strong enough to lead.
Joan – So, a German woman usurper took ze throne and she managed to keep it?
Gaspar – Not bad, huh?
Anna – That was not all she did. Catherine began a program of expansion. She conquered weaker neighbors and spread the Russian Empire westward and southward. She took territory on the Black sea, most of it belonging to the Ottoman Empire. I say, good! They took my beloved city of Constantinople. They can crumble for all I care.
Gaspar – Easy there, Anna. We’re supposed to be neutral as historians.
Anna – Of course we are. Thank you, Gaspar.
Gaspar – That’s why I’m here.
Mulan – Catherine conquered the Ukraine and defeated the Turks so bad that she had Russian proclaimed in a legal sense, the protector of all Orthodox people in the Ottoman Empire.
Anna – And here’s why: she thought of Russia as a third Rome. She wanted to create the pan Orthodox sphere that Byzantium once ruled. She wanted to recreate the Byzantine Empire and this thought would guide Russia all the way to the Crimean War. It was a golden age for Russian. And, true to Russian tradition, she partitioned Poland with Germany.
Joan – She also loved ze arts. She patronized writers, actors, artists and musicians. Her private collection is now a museum. Why, she even wrote many plays and books herself. Catherine paid for scientists to come to Russia to help Russia modernize. Little by little she made laws to modernize Russia and bring it out of the Middle Ages. She even worked to create a middle class. Her key for this was education. She stressed education and even started a school for the daughters of nobility.
Joan – Catherine made religious equality a goal and allowed Muslims free practice of zer religion. But of course, Jews, Muslims and Catholics had to pay more taxes. She was not perfect, quoi?
Gaspar – Now, I Gaspar, Bearer of Truth need to discuss a certain matter. There is a rumor which I shall not say aloud in mixed company, about Catherine the great and how she died. She died of a stroke. Any other rumors about how she died were created by her enemies after her death. There, that matter is put to rest.
Anna – Thank you Gaspar, what ever would we do without out you?
Joan – What were ze rumors?
Gaspar – I’ll tell you when you’re older.
Anna – Catherine ruled Russia with more competence and authority than any ruler before or since. She was the most powerful woman in the world during her lifetime and the model of an enlightened monarch.

Yeah, she was gangsta. She kicked her husband off the throne, led Russia into a golden age of expansion and education and did it all with style and moxy.

Yeah, she was gangsta. She kicked her husband off the throne, led Russia into a golden age of expansion and education and did it all with style and moxy.

 

Anna – Also, don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook.

Gaspar – Also, don’t forget to look at Zach’s book, “Fearless: Powerful Women of History.”

 

Battle of Jutland

Anna – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian where I, your provisional hostess, Anna Komnene will guide you through the interesting twists and turns of history. Zach sent a letter from Japan, but I didn’t read it. I’ll post it later or something if I find it interesting.
Matilda – And I, Matilda of Tuscany will aid in today’s topic along with Olga of Kiev, Gaspar Correia and Jane Austen.
Gaspar – Why is Jane Austen here again?
Matilda – Because she has more experience with the British Navy than all of us combined.
Anna – And because I like her books.
Jane – Thank you, my dear Anna. Now lets begin our charming discussion about the Royal Navy.

Gaspar - A WWI dreadnaught. I had to show something manly. The estrogen in this room is suffocating me.

Gaspar – A WWI dreadnought. I had to show something manly. The estrogen in this room is suffocating me.

Anna – Let us begin our story in the few years leading up to the first World War. Europe hadn’t had a large war for a few years and their militaries were confident and eager to prove themselves better than anyone else. The nations felt a war was coming and tension was escalating.
Jane – I hate to be rude but I must interject here. At this time, battle ships had several batteries of small to medium sized guns with only 2 to 4 larger guns of about 12 inches. The British watched the war between the Japanese and Russians with great interest and observed that the smaller guns had little to no impact on the battles at all. Also, the splashes the smaller guns created made it difficult to see the splashes the big guns made. That all means that the smaller, more useless guns made the big guns hard to aim. An Italian designer drew up plans for an “all big gun” ship and several nations took notice. The Japanese tried to make one but lacked the big guns. The Americans started making two but were entirely too slow in their attempt. The British though, in record speed created the HMS. Dreadnaught. Not only was it the biggest and most heavily armored ship, it was also the fastest and the most heavily armed. It sported ten of the 12 inch cannons in turrets. It was the first of a new design philosophy of naval ships. It was so radically different than any other ship before it that all ships created like it were called “dreadnoughts.

HMS. Dreadnaught, the first of its class that launched a complete change in the way things were done. Kind of like Led Zeppelin.

HMS. Dreadnaught, the first of its class that launched a complete change in the way things were done. Kind of like Led Zeppelin.

Matilda – When Germany saw the HMS. Dreadnaught, they scrambled to build their own. Once the Dreadnought took to sea, all other ships were obsolete. It was now a race to see who could put more dreadnoughts to see first.
Olga – So, big ship had big guns, yes? Why no do this before?
Matilda – They thought more faster firing guns was better.
Olga- Bigger is always better. Idiots!
Gapsar – I concur. When given the choice between firearms, I always choose the bigger of the two. It’s logic.
Anna – Eventually WWI broke out for moronic reasons and soon England and Germany were facing off over the water. England had a larger navy and a grand tradition of naval supremacy.
Jane – (sings) Rule Britannia!
Britannia rule the waves
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!
Anna – Yes, they dominated the oceans for the past three hundred years. They were confident with every reason to be so. They took their navy and blockaded Germany. If you remember Zach’s earlier post about logistics, you’d know that all warfare comes down to logistics, the movement of supplies, weapons and personal to where they need to go. England was cutting off supplies to Germany from the ocean and Germany had to do something.
Matilda – Germany had one big problem, that was the Grand Fleet of England. It was larger and Germany couldn’t hope to take them on all at once. So, Germany came up with a plan to lure a part of the British fleet out and destroy it one bite sized piece at a time. So the Germans came up with this elaborate plan to send some of their faster, lighter ships up and lure a squadron of British ships they knew were parked nearby. The British squadron was commanded by Vice-Admiral Beatty. They would let Beatty chase them and bring the British ships into the path of the rest of the German navy. The Germans sent out submarines to act as scouts, but the plan was delayed so long that the subs were either destroyed, were chased off, had to go back to shore for refueling or fell asleep.
Anna – There was also another problem. The German’s super-secret plan wasn’t so super-secret. The British had cracked their codes and were listening in on what the Germans were saying. So, they knew the Germans were planning something big on the 31st of May, 1916. So they positioned their fleet in the area and waited.

Gaspar - I had to use this one. It was too good not to.

Gaspar – I had to use this one. It was too good not to.

The German Admiral Hanz Hipper had to break the blockade. That was his one job. The British Admiral Jellicoe had one job as well, to completely destroy the German navy.

The German Admiral Hanz Hipper had to break the blockade. That was his one job. The British Admiral Jellicoe had one job as well, to completely destroy the German navy.

Olga – Oooh! Do I get to see ships blow up now? I need to see fighting or I get bored and leave.
Anna – We’re getting there, Olga.

Here we see the Grand Fleet sailing in parallel columns. This was how they maneuvered in battle. It made signaling the rest of the fleet easier so they could make turns quicker and more accurately.

Here we see the Grand Fleet sailing in parallel columns. This was how they maneuvered in battle. It made signaling the rest of the fleet easier so they could make turns quicker and more accurately.

Jane – Admiral Hipper sailed down to look for the Germans and he was unknowingly heading right at them. If he continued on that path he would go right into the middle of the German fleet and be destroyed. But he had previous orders to reach and certain point and turn around, which as a good British sailor, he did. But then the British spotted two German torpedo boats and opened fire. They missed and the torpedo boats sped back to their own fleet which in turn opened fire on the British fleet, scoring a hit from very long range. Lucky hun! The British then launched a sea plane to scout the Germans out. This was the first time a seaborne plane was used in battle for reconnaissance. Of course we British did it first.
Anna – We Byzantines would rather just set our enemies of fire. So chew on that. As I was saying…oh yes. Admiral Beatty’s job was to keep his ships together to concentrate firepower but do to poor communication on his part to his captains and going faster than his slowest ships, he managed to spread his ship out, something he didn’t want to do. And once Beatty had the German ships in range….he held off firing for 10 crucial minutes and he still didn’t get his ships into a fighting formation. What was he doing? I don’t know.
Matilda – Finally the two fleets engaged and began firing. The Germans took off, leading Beatty south towards the awaiting German forces.
Gaspar – And this is where the German plan comes fully into action. The Germans had gone further than the dreadnaught and came up with a new weapon, a giant robot called a “Mobile Suit.” Leading this elite force of super weapons was a guy nicknamed “the Red Comet.” He was waiting with his force of mobile suits to destroy the British fleet.

The Red Comet was out for blood in his custom painted red Zaku!

The Red Comet was out for blood in his custom painted red Zaku!

Jane – I’m afraid Gaspar is feeling ill today. He must have a brain fever. He has confused Gundam for history. Though the show is most entertaining, it is far from factual.
Anna – He does that. You’ll get used to it.
Jane – I certainly hope not.
Anna – As the fleets sailed south they continued to fire at each other but the weather was in the Germans’ favor and caused nothing but visibility problems for the British. The HMS. Lion was struck in a turret and avoided being blown up completely by the quick action of a morally wounded Marine who ordered the magazine doors shut and flooded before the whole thing could go up and take out the entire ship. But another British ship was sunk. The HMS. Indefatigable was hammered by the Germans until a shell finally blew up one of its ordinance magazines and the ship exploded, killing all but two men.

The worst fear of any captain.

The worst fear of any captain.

Matilda – A little while later another British ship was blown completely up by another magazine hit. It wasn’t looking good for the British and they were almost to the awaiting German fleet. I can’t stand those Germans. Why, when they dared come down into Italy and march through…
Anna – Matilda, Calm down. We talked about this.
Matilda – Where’s my sword?
Anna – We’re professional historians. We have to keep our cool at all times. Remember. Fear is the mind killer.
Jane – While they are working on….whatever it is they are doing, let us continue with the battle, shall we? When another ship was feared blown up, Beatty said, “I fear there may be something wrong with our bloody ships!” That’s a stiff upper lip! But soon they spotted the German fleet in its entirety and immediately turned north to where Admiral Jellicoe awaited. Finally they spotted Admiral Beatty and Jellicoe used signals to ask the location of the German flotilla. Beatty, again with no explanation, did not answer for fifteen minutes. But in order to deploy his fleet to counter the Germans, he had to know where the Germans were and for 20 minutes he was without that information while the Germans steamed right at him. A very dire situation for an admiral to be in.
Olga – This getting good. (opens bag of dorritos.)
Anna – Meanwhile the Germans are completely unaware that a fleet of dreadnaughts are waiting for them. Finally the two fleets spot each other and two of the British ships foolishly wander into range of the German dreadnaughts. They blow up one of the ships and severely damage that one and another one that had rudder problems causing it to go in circles. The British couldn’t catch a break.
Matilda – The heavy capital ships fired and soon the battle was on. The flagships of the admirals were stuck in it exchanging salvos from their giant cannons. The British damaged the German flagship but the Germans blew up another British ship, the unfortunately named Invincible.

The battle was fierce as massive cannons pounded away at heavy armor.

The battle was fierce as massive cannons pounded away at heavy armor.

Anna – Because of poor visibility the Germans couldn’t see the entire British navy and were soon caught in a trap. They were in a position to only fire a few of their ships while the British could fire everything they had. The German admiral saw this and ordered a difficult but well practiced 180 degree turn and got out of dodge in a hurry. The British followed but only carefully.
Jane – I must add that at this time the HMS. Shark was severely damaged and was fighting a losing battle against four torpedo boats and a damaged U-boat. Against all odds he continued fighting until his ship was sunk. He won the Victoria’s Cross for heroism for his valiant effort.
Anna – The Germans were desperately trying to get away but knew they wouldn’t make it to nightfall unless they did something. The the German admirals launched a massive torpedo attack and sent four battle cruisers out to draw British fire in a suicidal mission to save the rest of the fleet. This “death ride” was a brave move by the Germans. The battle cruisers were pounded by heavy guns and all where severely damaged, but they lived and turned south again to catch up with the German fleet just as night fell.
Matilda – But the battle wasn’t over. The British continued to chase the Germans during the night and several short range and intense fights happened that saw more ships sunk. The German ship Nassau rammed the British ship HMS. Spitfire and fired its guns point blank, blowing away the superstructure tower because they couldn’t lower the guns enough to hit the ship. Another British dreadnaught accidentally rammed a German cruiser and sunk it.
Olga – Dah! Dah! Very good. (Continues to crunch away at her chips.)
Gaspar – This was when the Germans…
Jane – Mr. Gaspar, could you be so kind as to bring us all some of that lovely pizza from the oven?
Gaspar – Anything for a lady.
Jane – Thank you, Gaspar.
(Gaspar leaves)
Anna – Thank you Jane.
Jane – Please don’t mention it.
Anna – So, during the bloody night the Germans managed to slip away due to several blunders on the Brit’s part, including the failure of the admiralty in London to telegraph intercepted messages that said exactly where the German fleet was going. One would think that sort of thing would be important.
Olga – Wait, wait. Who won?
Anna – That’s hard to say. At first both sides reported a German victory and the Germans even celebrated it as a holiday until after WWII. But in reality, neither side won. The British lost far more ships than the Germans but the Germans completely failed to destroy the English navy and for the rest of the war the Germans avoided another head on battle like that and stuck to submarine warfare.
Matilda – This was Britain’s once chance to destroy the German fleet and they failed to do so. Both sides did not achieve their goals.
Jane – I believe, ‘indecisive’ is the word. How droll. The British lost 113,300 tons of ship to the Germans’ loss of only 62,300 tons. Though outnumbered, the Germans came out on top but didn’t have the numbers to continue fighting head on. But do not worry my dear readers, the British shall return in the second World War for more daring heroics on the high seas!

And, just because…

jutland poster