Austria – Österreich über Alles
Albert V (1st January 1419 – 1st January 1439): A Quiet Beginning
It is January in the year of our Lord 1419. The snow is thick on the ground in Vienna as I make my way to the Imperial Court of Albert V. With my reputation as a soothsayer and teller of prophecies, I am rather uneasy in surroundings such as these – the only time soothsayers are usually found in the vicinity of public buildings is when we are about to be condemned to death by means of a public barbecue. However, I sense no fear, just uneasiness. To my surprise, I am hustled into the great hall of the Imperial palace, and see Albert V himself sitting, enthroned with all the paraphernalia one would expect of a Holy Roman Emperor.
I am introduced, and he greets me warmly. He seems to have been well-briefed, and I keep on my guard, only too aware of the number of people who have encountered this same personable façade, only to find themselves stabbed in the back in a dark alley shortly afterwards. Albert leads me over to a long table, and shows me the map thereupon:
He bids me to sit down, and explains his situation. Austria is but a small nation, currently punching well above its weight in European politics thanks only to the reputation of the great house of Habsburg which rules it. It is economically backward, and surrounded by neighbours who appear outwardly friendly, but who could turn as soon as they sense a weakness. Albert emphasises that he’s well aware that, if the Habsburg dynasty were to fail, Austria would be at the mercy of those around her, a situation he does not wish to see happen. I am about to tell him that the fall of the Habsburg dynasty is about the last thing he should be worried about, but I feel now would not be the time. No, there’s something he wants from me, and I’m not about to blow my trump card at this early stage. Instead, I ask what he want from me.
“Young man, people say you can see the future. Is this true?”
“I have heard it said, your majesty.”
“Well, here’s a change to prove yourself. Since the death of Fürst von Schmetterling, I have been without an adviser. I’m willing to put my faith in you. It is up to you to repay it.”
I thank Albert profusely, and assure him that I will serve him for as long as I live, sensing that I might be able to avoid the fate normally reserved for my kind. I am sent to my new, opulent lodgings in the castle tower, and told that I will start work the following day.
Sensing that Austria’s main weakness is economic, I set about loaning to other European nations, hoping to make sufficient money from interest payments to cover the expenses incurred in the everyday course of business. Noticing also that we are currently alone in the world, I ally immediately with Bavaria. I decide to sit back and see what will happen for a little while.
Annexations are the flavour of the decade; Candar, Modena, Trebizond and Bosnia are conquered within a year by the Ottoman Empire (I make a mental note to keep a careful eye on these chaps), Tuscany, Dulkadir and Serbia respectively. A peasants’ revolt in Tyrol is crushed in December 1425, and Bavaria is vassalised on 7th May 1426.
A protracted war breaks out between Poland & Bohemia on the one hand, and Hungary on the other. Matters are finally resolved in March 1428, as Bohemia takes control of Carpathia, and Poland gets its grubby mitts on Ruthenia. Feeling worried at the increasing power of Poland & Bohemia, I bring Württemberg and Helvetia into our alliance.
The final decade of Albrecht’s rule passes as peacefully as the first. Fortresses are upgraded all over the nation in 1435, as my policy of being Europe’s bank (and even lending to those cash-hungry Ottomans, much to the disgust of the Archbishop of Vienna) finally pays dividends. Württemberg and Helvetia are both vassalised, and yet more nations are annexed elsewhere in Europe, some in peace, others in war (Oldenburg to England, Gelre to Burgundy, Cologne to Kleves, Munster to France, Milan to Genoa (much to my disgust, as I had hoped to take the riches of Milan for myself), and Albania to the Ottomans). 1436 sees some degree of tension at the Imperial court, as some nobles demand what they claim to be their traditional rights. Not willing to see Austria descend into chaos, and mindful that, in the atmosphere of an ailing monarch, I need to keep the nobles onside, I grant their requests.
By Christmas 1438, Albrecht is demonstrably ailing, and won’t last much longer. I make a special effort to ingratiate myself with his heir, and get his agreement that I will be retained as chief minister after Albrecht’s death. Indeed, the old man himself does not long survive Christmas; he dies as the bells ring in 1439.
Ladislas Postumus (1st January 1439 – 27th November 1457): Carefully Does It
Ladislas is a man very similar in nature to his father. However, he is less than convinced by my policy of being Europe’s bankers. I point to the gleaming new fortresses all over the country, but he seems less than convinced. He remarks pointedly that Austria’s boundaries haven’t changed during my 2 decades in power, and warns that our neighbours are expanding at our expense. I refuse politely to abandon my cautious policy, but concede that we must expand at some point. In the meantime, Austrian money is still being circulated around Europe, and our exchequer is reaping the rewards.
Ladislas’s warning about powerful neighbours strikes home suddenly one day in April 1442, when a courier arrived from Berlin to let me know that Poland has annexed the nation of Brandenburg. Ok, so it was peacefully accomplished, but it makes me worried. I bring Genoa into our Austria\Bavaria\Helvetia axis, and diplomatically annex Württemberg, so I can at least report to Ladislas that we’re expanding too.
We’re not the only ones though; 1443 also sees Burgundy conquering Lorraine by force, and also the loss of the final relic of the Roman Empire, as Byzantium succumbs to the power of the Ottomans, who immediately move their capital to the smouldering ruins of Constantinople. Milan declares its independence from Genoa, but my hopes of conquering it for Austria are short-lived, as our army reports that the Genoese were already on the scene. Mournfully, I order our men to pull back from the siege. Despite us not doing anything, Milan sues for peace and pays us 147 gold for the privilege! Not that it does them any good, as they are re-annexed by Genoa almost immediately afterwards. No matter, as the peace settlement has already been loaned out to a couple of cash-strapped nations.
On the domestic front, we continue to reap the benefits of my unexciting loan policy. The proceeds of one repayment are spent on upgrading our fortress in Württemberg, in case any of our neighbours might have wanted to use it as a back door into our heartland. In February 1447, there is an unprovoked revolt in Tyrol (there must be something in the water over there, you know). I send one army to crush it, and am subsequently rather shocked when I hear of its defeat and retreat. Never mind, we have more armies, and the rebels aren’t as lucky in the second battle. I order a small harvest of heads in Tyrol, just to remind people that authority does have to be obeyed.
The last years of Ladislas are peaceful in terms of domestic goings-on, but the annexation merry-go-round continues elsewhere. Granada is conquered by Portugal, and Wallachia by the Ottomans (they’re starting to worry me now). Peaceful takeovers still happen though – Castile and Bohemia take control of Navarra and Saxony respectively without a single shot being fired (if only keeping them was so easy). Burgundy goes on a vassalisation spree, taking the Palatinate, Savoy and Mainz under their wing, all in less than a year.
However, that time is coming round again. Ladislas is getting weaker, and will not be much longer in this world. I send a few gifts to other German nations, just to make sure that Ladislas’s heir Friedrich is elected Emperor as easily as his father was. Sure enough, on one stormy night in November, Death comes to the Imperial court, and Ladislas departs this world for the next. His reign was another peaceful one, with just one war (the only one I have fought thus far). However, the territory under Austrian control expanded; perhaps only by one (Württemberg), but we all have to start somewhere .
Friedrich V (27th November 1457 – 21st August 1493): Twist of Fate
As soon as the lavish coronation ceremony is over, Friedrich summons me to a private audience. He rewards me for my dutiful service to his father and grandfather with the title of Marquis, and briefs me of what he wants to accomplish. He wants to be remembered in history as a monarch who made a difference, quite unlike his predecessors. He walks over to his map table and points to the map thereon:
He is of the opinion that eastward expansion has been more or less curtailed by the activities of Hungary, Bohemia and Poland. He eyes the single-province states in Germany with some degree of envy, and makes it clear I should direct my attentions there.
That night, I have a strange dream. A great empire torn apart by the untimely death of its monarch, its territories split between two great powers, one Western and one Eastern. I awake with a start. It must have been one hell of a night last night, I think, and try to remember what I had been drinking. Oh yes, a red Burgundy. I wonder if the wine and vision are related.
The first decade of Friedrich’s reign is another peaceful one, much to his disappointment. I firmly remind him that it is not Austrian policy to declare war without a good reason, something which he grudgingly accepts. Several European nations declare independence and are subsequently re-annexed. The only big event in the Austrian political calendar during this period is the accession of Bohemia to our alliance, replacing Genoa, who dropped out owing to an oversight on my part (something for which I am still cursing myself).
The second decade is a whole lot more eventful, however. To mark the 10th anniversary of Friedrich’s accession, I spend 1000 gold on acquiring the title of Defender of the Catholic Faith. This delights his majesty greatly, as it promises not only to fulfil his spiritual needs but also his temporal ones, as we will now receive a causus belli on any nation declaring war on a Catholic country. It also vindicates my loan policy, as a poor nation such as Austria would never otherwise have been able to scrape together such an enormous sum of money. We must be careful, though – the title will be declared forfeit as soon as we lose a war.
There is a small rumpus at court in 1473, when an innovative thinker appears on the scene. He is quickly imprisoned, as I feel his majesty only needs one such person around Vienna. Besides, a narrow-minded nation is much easier to lead than a free-thinking one. The following year, the Ottomans suffer their first major setback, as they lost Macedonia and Rumelia to Venice after a war for which, I’m proud to say, both sides paid using Austrian money.
1475 sees Poland further expanding their influence, with the peaceful annexation of Pommern. Friedrich is really getting agitated now, but I stick to my peace policy. Mindful of my earlier vision, I expend a reasonably large amount of money cosying up to Burgundy, in case Charles the Bold proves too bold at any point – Friedrich’s son Maximilian is casting covetous eyes at Charles’s only daughter. Aragon takes a couple of provinces off Castile after a quick war, leading me to wonder why the two most powerful nations on the Iberian peninsula don’t just bury the hatchet and cooperate a bit more. Sure enough, within a year, Castile has taken the name “Spain”, and Queen Isabella has married Ferdinand of Aragon, leading to Aragon’s vassalisation by her more powerful neighbour. Venice takes advantage of the international confusion caused by this to annex Mantua (peacefully, of course).
One June morning, I am sitting at my desk when a message arrives from Dijon. Charles the Bold has indeed lived up to his name too much, and has drowned during a fishing expedition. My policy of Burgundian appeasement has paid dividends too, as Maximilian has married Charles’s heiress and taken control over the vast majority of ex-Burgundian lands (Alsace, Lorraine, Luxembourg, Flanders, Holland, Geldre & Piedmont). France has taken the opportunity to seize Bourgogne and Franche-Comté, but I’m not too worried about that for the moment.
In one twist of fate, Austria has become a big player on the Western European stage, and has gained the right to attack France at some point in the future, as their ally Kleves is holding some of Burgundy’s ancestral Dutch lands which Maximilian would like to see returned to their rightful owner. I make a note in my journal that we will attack in 1483, when our royal marriage with Paris expires, by which time our military men will have worked out the delicate business of assaulting enemy fortresses. As soon as 1478 rolls around, we bring the small but powerful nation of Friesland into our burgeoning alliance. I hurry to tell Friedrich, and to show him the new map of his possessions:
While the Austrian army is being built up and trained, word comes in that the Ottomans continue to lose lands; this time Dobrudja to Moldavia. Hungary expresses its admiration for Moldavia’s achievement in the only way possible, namely by declaring war on them. In June 1481, I receive the message that our tacticians have finally come up with a way of assaulting fortresses. My joy is short-lived, however, as the Bohemian ambassador corners me in a corridor in the Imperial palace the following month to let me know that King Vladislav II has declared war on Hungary, and has requested Austrian assistance.
Left with little choice but to agree, I find my nation pitched into a titanic struggle between the forces of good (Bohemia, ourselves, Helvetia, Bavaria and Friesland) and evil (Hungary, Baden, Cyprus, Hannover, Scotland & the Palatinate). Friedrich is delighted; I’m aghast. My anti-French policy seems to be falling around my ears, as I move our forces from Western Europe to Eastern Europe. An attack by the Palatinate on Lorraine in August 1481 is defeated, but I prevent the ringing of the bells in the churches of Vienna as news breaks of a heavy Austrian defeat in Luxembourg. December sees the Austrian capture of Pressburg, marking the first ever successful Austrian assault, and also the expulsion of enemy forces from Württemberg. On December 12th, we sign white peaces with Scotland, Cyprus & Hannover, knocking them out of the conflict.
1482 starts badly, with a heavy defeat in Pressburg, which the Hungarians promptly besiege. On January 15th, the Palatine ambassador demands Ostmarch in return for peace, a request which I meet with derisive laughter. The smile is wiped off my face on March 5th with news that Alsace has fallen to the rampaging armies of the Palatinate, and that Hungary is about to retake Pressburg. The following day, I hurriedly meet with the Hungarian ambassador and inform him in my best Magyar that this war is in the interests of nobody, and ask for a white peace. Astonishingly, he agrees, and the Treaty of Budapest is signed immediately. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when Hungary asked the Palatinate to pull out of Alsace! So, our war is over, with no gain at all, but at the cost of nearly 50,000 Austrian lives.
Friedrich is shaken by the war, and informs me privately that my peace policy was probably the best course of action after all. I acknowledge him, and sit down to rethink my upcoming war with France. With so many seasoned veterans lost, I decide to postpone it indefinitely, and hire an Italian engineer to educate my troops on the finer points of defensive tactics.
1483 is a year of consolidation and rebuilding, although Lorraine revolts twice against Austrian domination. The first rebellion is crushed easily, but the second takes 3 attempts and costs the lives of yet more seasoned soldiers. 1484 starts off in the same vein, with Piedmont playing turncoat. The fortress falls, but only after 2 bloody assaults. Some regional heresy in February is ignored, much to the disgust of Friedrich’s spiritual advisers.
I continue to keep an eye on France, however, and note with great interest their declaration of war on Bourbonnais. With their troops occupied in the south of their country, I raise some war taxation and launch an assault on France’s Dutch and German lands (Kleves having been peacefully annexed by the French a couple of years before). A quick campaign now could see us nabbing at least 1 province before they can react properly. Indeed, a quick campaign is a must, as France can command much greater resources and manpower reserves than Austria.
The First Franco-Austrian War, December 1484 – January 1492
All our allies heed our call to arms, pitting our alliance against France, Tuscany, the Knights of St. John, Eire & Savoy. The first engagement, the First Battle of Zeeland on August 11th 1485, results in the defeat of the large French Northern army. Deprived of any chance of relief, Cologne falls to our forces on September 26th, at the same time as a plague decimates a large proportion of the population of Ostmarch. In late September and early October, I sign white peaces with the Knights, Eire & Tuscany, and raise a bit more tax to fund the war effort. Munster falls to our troops 3 months to the day after the First Battle of Zeeland. The year ends on a sour note, however, as France captures Piedmont. People around Austria will be less than amused too, as more war taxation is levied to pay for troops.
1486 starts well, with the capture and annexation of Savoy to the Austrian crown. The victorious army moves on to Franche-Comté and captures it just over a month later. Collecting reinforcements in Helvetia on the way back, it subsequently recaptures Piedmont in September. This is rapidly followed by our first naval victory, as the French fleet is forced to beat a retreat towards Provence. Our victorious admiral sends me French maps stolen by one of our boarding parties. At the end of the year, Zeeland and Flanders both switch owners after long sieges, Zeeland to ourselves, and Flanders to France. Meanwhile, just to prove that life goes on elsewhere much as usual, the Papal States forcibly annex Naples on November 28th.
Our first mercenary companies are recruited in Holland in January 1487, as the realisation dawns on me that this war will be a protracted and bloody one, one for which Austrian manpower reserves are not sufficiently adequate. The companies share very different fates; one makes it through to Kleves, and takes the city on April 2nd, but the other is met by a much larger French force in Zeeland whilst on its was to re-take Flanders, and is completely annihilated. Word reaches me from Piedmont that the French are again seeking to capture it (one wonders why they bother when there are many richer provinces elsewhere), and my gloom is compounded when I hear of the heavy defeat of the force I sent to relieve the city. However, I am gladdened by the news of the annihilation of a French army bound for Zeeland in Cologne in April.
Flanders is liberated, much to my relief, on July 7th, and the victorious army routs the large enemy force at the gates of neighbouring Zeeland, killing more than half of the Frenchmen present. The Palatinate, still smarting from their treatment by Hungary over Alsace, join the war on the French side on September 3rd. They promptly offer me a white peace, but I refuse, eager to take revenge for their earlier conduct. December sees the first serious attempt to end the conflict, with France offering Franche-Comté and Artois (which I don’t even control!). Sensing that the French are desperate, I reject it and call once again for more taxation to fund the war.
1488 is a quiet year, the only action being the continuing French siege of Piedmont, and the encirclement by our forces of Pfalz. A noble revolt in Flanders is quickly crushed. Of course, war taxes are again raised at the end of the year. I must say that I am becoming increasingly impressed with the manner of the ordinary Austrian people – despite the heavy tax burden, there is not even a single murmur of revolt.
We capture Brabant on 23rd January 1489, followed quickly by Pfalz. The Palatinate ends its troublesome independent existence soon afterwards, the former ruling family fleeing to some den of iniquity in Paris, no doubt. I receive a shock on May 3rd, as the Würzburg ambassador informs me that they are now at war with us. I ask who they are allied to, and am told that they will fight their war alone. Incredulous, I call our alliance into action, and raise war taxes yet again. Leaving Würzburg to our allies, I concentrate once again on the main event, and laugh uproariously when I hear that a bunch of Brabantine rebels have slaughtered the French force besieging the city. I send my main army to besiege Paris.
The siege does not last long, as we are forced out of the province after an unsuccessful attempt at storming the city in January 1490. February sees the end of the war with Würzburg, with them paying us nearly 150 gold, and being annexed almost immediately by Bavaria. If only all wars were so simple, I muse. I send my troops back to the gates of Paris, which falls on November 10th. The last French Northern army is defeated in the field in Champagne soon afterwards. In a completely separate conflict, Baden annexes Mainz on December 8th.
Determined to bring the conflict with France to a profitable end, I order half my forces to assault the poorly-fortified province of Picardie, which falls on April 11th 1491. The French Southern army has now made its way north, and is once again besieging Zeeland. I send the rest of my forces to drive them out, and the final French field army is annihilated in two battles in August and September in Zeeland and Munster respectively. The final act of the war is the Austrian capture of Bourgogne on 30th December.
Worn out and broken by the conflict, France is forced into a humiliating peace, signed in the Louvre in Austrian-controlled Paris on 2nd January 1492. They agree to hand over Zeeland, Munster, Kleves, Cologne & Brabant, and to pay us 50 gold to remove our armies from what remains of their territory. The war has cost us at least 200,000 men, killed either in combat or by the general rigours one must expect in a protracted conflict such as this. The Austrian people have stood resolutely behind their monarch, however, despite annual war taxation which has impoverished many. Now, I note, is a time for healing and rebuilding. France still controls some of Burgundy’s ancestral provinces, but we shall have to wait for another time to recover them. The map of Austria now looks something like this:
Friedrich is, of course, delighted by the progress of the war. He promotes me to a ducal honour, and orders that celebrations should be held throughout his expended realm. He is an old man, however, and ailing rapidly. He does live to enjoy his empire for a year and a half, however, until the inevitable happens. He is succeeded as Austrian ruler and Holy Roman Emperor by his son Maximilian I, a close confidante of mine during the war with France. Friedrich towered over his nation for nearly 4 decades, turning Austria from a poor backwater in Eastern Europe to one of the most important powers on the Western European stage. Well, that’s what the history books will say, at any rate – those truly behind his greatness will doubtless be forgotten in the mists of time.