Je Maintiendrai, the road to Dutch unification and beyond – a Gelre AAR
For a long time the citizens of the low countries had seen their provinces divided and slowly taken over by Burgundy. King Arnold I of Gelre was worried about this because the very survival of Gelre itself was in peril. Isolated next to the large nation of Burgundy it was neighbouring the fellow Dutch states of Friesland and Utrecht. A nation alone, especially if it consists of only 1 province can’t survive without allies because sooner or later a neighbour with allies will take advantage.
The choice thus had to be made for a survival strategy. Three things made the path to take clear:
Utrecht has a casus belli on Gelre, Burgundy has claims on Friesland and Burgundy is much larger than Friesland and Gelre together.
It was decided then the ties with Burgundy had to be strengthened in the hope of getting an alliance. The offer was made to commit to a royal marriage first in the hopes of them offering an alliance.
The only positive point was Gelre was not the only nation without allies at that time. Utrecht and Friesland too lacked support. Therefor war had to be declared on Utrecht and that city had to be taken forthwith. This was evidently risky since loosing 1 battle would have surely meant occupation of Arnhem and the end of independence. However a passive state was much more risky since it would have given time for potential enemies to gather and attack or for Burgundy to beat Gelre to potential conquest of the Dutch neighbours.
War was declared and the army supplemented by a hastily recruited mercenary company moved in to siege the Domstad (city of the Domchurch). It was at that time an envoy came from Friesland offering an alliance. Of course this was not the option the council wished for, however the envoy was stalled for immediate refusal could bring Friesland to declare war on Gelre before Utrecht was conclusively dealt with.
In Utrecht the first step to victory was achieved by defeating the army of the bishop and the siege began.Lots of envoys from other nations came with alliance offers in the meantime and were all rejected until, with the alliance offer from Friesland having expired and the danger of an attack from the north with the army stuck around the walls of Utrecht becoming larger every day, a messenger with a white flag and a diagonal red cross was reported arriving.
The hopes were high and indeed the Burgundians were offering an alliance which was gladly accepted. Shortly hereafter a second messenger from the now ally arrived informing Gelre of it’s declaration of war on…..Friesland. This call to arms was heard and replied to positively. This however meant Arnhem was now under danger of being sieged from the north and there was danger of Burgundy starting a siege on Groningen.
Indeed a Burgundian army from Holland immediately started marching toward Friesland. From the Frisian side 1000 men from Friesland started marching on Gelre and another 1000 on Holland.
King Arnold I who was personally leading the army split his army and marched hastily towards Arnhem. There he arrived finding the Frisians already there. He charged and battle was joined near the small town of Oosterbeek which went undecided until to the cheers of the Gelrian army a Burgundian cavalry regiment arrived. It was delayed because it had to cross many a river on it’s march from Brabant. It helped turn the tide and the Frisians were defeated. Arnold I immediately marched north toward Groningen.
In the meantime word arrived from developments up north. The Burgundians were forced to stop their crossing of the Zuiderzee because of a Frisian fleet. This fleet had managed to defeat the lone Gelrian cog there which sadly was the whole fleet and therefore the Burgundian army was stopped in it’s tracks. The loss of the fleet was quickly forgotten because the king realised this news wasn’t that bad at all. The Burgundians turned that army south so Arnold I now could be the first to arrive in Friesland thus getting 1 step closer to capturing it for Gelre.
The second Frisian army meanwhile had arrived in Holland and had started sieging Amsterdam since there was no opposition in the province after it had left towards the south. This opened up Friesland and the Gelrian army arrived starting the siege of Groningen.
Near Groningen the retreating Frisian army arrived and battle was once more joined. In the first hour of the battle tragedy struck. Haing the habit to lead his troops at the forefront Arnold I met his adversary who was only known by his honorary title Fryske Frijheid (Frisian freedom). They both fought valiantly wounding each other lethally.
This left both armies leaderless but the Gelrians had the advantage of prepared defensive positions. The Frisians weren’t helped either by the arrival of the retreating army from Holland where it had been defeated by a Burgundian relieve force. This army was demoralized and even worse was in the process of unloading from little boats after having crossed the Zuiderzee. This severely penalized the Frisian army and it was forced to surrender despite having superiority in numbers.
The north thus no longer being a threat, the Burgundians marched their armies back south.
The new king was Karel I. He would stay in Arnhem and not join the troops since both siege armies now could wait out their sieges unopposed. The first city to fall was Utrecht and the lands were added to Gelre. The army there was the mercenary army which now could be disbanded.
The siege in Friesland would last for almost a year even though Lorraine lent it’s assistance. Finally, 14 months after the start of the campaign Groningen was captured and the war was ended. Not only had Gelre managed to survive, it had tripled in size. Far from a regional power and still living in the shadows of a giant, Gelre was intend on consolidation.