(This is my first attempt at an AAR. I hope you enjoy it, as I have enjoyed many of yours. The game settings are: IGC 2.0, Normal/Normal Difficulty, Spanish Lowlands, COT in Stockholm, no other major powers, independent Brittany/Eire.)
Recollections of an Old Man
As I approach my nearing mortality, I, Gustavo Cocozza, Chief Minister to His Majesty, Hermann IV, have resolved to record for my successor the most peculiar events which have transpired during my term of service. I came to this moribund backwater in the Year of our Lord 1478, bereft of funds, but wealthy by name, after distinguished service at the courts of Naples and Burgundy. For many years, I led a quiet life as I helped to lead this stagnant beer-drinking burg to prosperous peace. My life was turned upside-down, however, that cold and gloomy night in January 1492 when my liege summoned me to his quarters. With ashen face and shaking hands, he related to me a fantastic story. He said that he awoke in the night to see the shade of Charlemagne at the foot of his bed. My liege then stated that he had been commanded by the ancient emeperor to conquer a new Empire, one that one would do justice to the land's Carolingian heritage, as opposed to the feeble, elected institution it had become by devolution to foreign pretenders. Aghast at the prospect of my tiny adopted state bumping elbows with large, powerful neighbors, I tried for several days to dissuade our Ruler from embarking upon this foolhardy task. In the end, his will prevailed.
After carefully studying the current continental situation, I suggested to His Majesty that in order for Cologne to survive, it must quickly ally with a major power. Concurrently, I noted that although other sovereigns would look quite poorly upon the forcible absorption of other German states, rich lands to the west could be added to our Realm (and subtracted from the Spanish) without incurring such disapproval. My liege agreed enthusiastically and the plan was set in motion to seize land from the Spanish, while under the protection of the French.
Before the end of 1492, Cologne had duly joined the French Coalition (with the Papal States, Brittany, and Savoy), which at the time was fighting the English. Although this war ended inconclusively three years later, the most important effect was that Spain left the English Alliance and joined instead the Austrian Coalition (with Bohemia, Hungary, Wurtemburg, Baden, and Lorraine). When this news reached me, I swooned, and then beseeched my liege once more to cancel this dangerous enterprise. He refused, and instead demanded that we prepare to strike. In order to even undertake this gamble, I had to risk another gamble first. Knowing full well the devastating effects of inflation and bankruptcy, I grudgingly relented to the immediate procurement of 3 loans. These new funds were used to construct 160 cannon; I thought it essential that we be able to quickly seize fortresses from the Spanish, who could squash us like so much sauerkraut. After recruiting a few thousand foot soldiers as well, we decided to strike.
In August 1494, we declared war on Spain. The remainder of the Austrian Coalition sprang to her defense. Fortuantely, I had not overestimated the strength of our own alliance, as France and the rest (which now also included the Swiss) joined the fray. Our troops quickly captured most of the Lowlands against only token opposition from a few thousand Spaniards. However, as the new year dawned, large forces from Spain and Austria began to march on our homeland, and so we put heavy diplomatic pressure on Spain to accept our demands, which were initially rebuffed. Suddenly, Spain relented - Zeeland and Holland were now the property of Cologne! Our share of the war ended with the payment of a piddling 16 ducats in restitution to the Habsburg dogs. All my worst fears had proven ungrounded, as our Realm has now trebled in size, an outcome far beyond my tepid expectations. France and the rest of our allies went on fighting, and for its efforts, France secured the lands of Wurtemburg. This was offset by the loss of Bearn to Spain, however.
After the war, I immediately directed our Ruler's attention to our dire economic situation. Although Cologne had succeeded in getting large shares of the trade of Flanders and Venice, the interest payments on earlier loans eventually spiralled out of control, leading to bankruptcy. This was my major concern before the war; without a stable currency, any scientific and technical breakthroughs would be few and far between. Fortunately, enough money was found to sufficiently improve our merchants' efficiency such that a tenuous pecuniary balance was attained. In the meantime, our armies had to be sent repeatedly on expeditions to suppress Dutch insurrections. Our situation continued to improve until events from beyond our newly-enlarged borders demanded our attention.
France again attempted to subdue England in the year 1502. We disinterestedly joined our allies in this cause, as we felt that England's focus would be upon our French brothers. Two uneventful years passed until, in a moment of sublime absurdity, tiny Baden decided to unite with the former lands of Wurtemburg by declaring war upon France! Thus began the Second War of the Austrian Coalition (Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, Baden, Lorraine vs. France, Papal States, Savoy, Brittany, Helvetia). Although my liege was anxious to join the fight, I urged him to wait just a few weeks, so as to see if Spain would move its 18,000 man army south out of Flanders. Sure enough, they did, and our siege train moved to Antwerp in their wake. Another equally-sized force had simultaneously approached the Hague. Much as in the first war, four Spanish provinces were quickly seized. Dare we hope that the fabulously rich province of Flanders join the Realm? In disbelief, I stared at the courier's reply from the Spaniards - we had been granted both Flanders and the Hague, and were now longer at war with the Austrian Coalition (although France fought on, as usual, and gained Franche-Comte from Spain while also relieving Baden of its independence). Our plans for national festivals were quickly shelved, however, as the English immediately moved to strike at our newly-gained lands. They snatched both Flanders and Zeeland from us and demanded possession of Flanders in return for peace. Our troops struggled on valiantly, though, and after the English moved their troops to France, we retook both provinces, and were finally free of the English menace when, in 1506, France and England agreed to again suspend hostilities without concession of defeat.
It is now January of 1507, fifteen years after that fateful night, and Cologne's future looks promising, though fraught with potential peril. Cologne now has increased in size to five times its former territory, and the annexed lands are among the richest in Europe. Our annual tax roll is now over 110 ducats, more than an eight-fold increase over Cologne's original revenue stream. Moreover, we are still in good standing with our neighbors. However, inflation is now at a staggering 52% (!), rebellions are a constant nuisance, and Cologne remains a weakling relative to the other great powers. One thing is for certain - my successor will also be living in interesting times.......