It is most meet we arm us 'gainst the foe;
For peace itself should not so dull a kingdom
On the 8th of September, 1488, Catholic Europe observes the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in commemoration of the birth of Mary). At the Palace of Westminster's celebratory meal, King William spots something unusual.
Amongst the revellers is an unexpectedly melancholy face—that of the Princess of Wales. Her expression alternates from doleful resignation to narrowed eyes and tightly pursed lips. The king looks out into the crowd of courtiers and courtesans  to see the target of his daughter-in-law's opprobrium. One of Christina's Danish ladies-in-waiting appears to be fidgeting with her sleeves and chatting with the Prince of Wales. Perhaps that style of sleeve is no longer the fashion? Or has the princess spotted another innocent custom that is unremarkable in England but reviled as the height of rudeness in their homeland?
 Courtesan is the proper term for a female courtier, though later in the Renaissance it became a sort of shorthand for the ruler's mistress.
Christina, Princess of Wales, late 1480s.
William is interrupted from his idle speculation by the arrival of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his principal secretary—these men always wish to dwell on affairs of state. When the king glances back an hour later, Queen Eleanor is trying to cheer up the princess, who still wears a forlorn look—and Prince Henry is still conversing with the lady-in-waiting. Then the Danish courtesan shoots a triumphant look at the dejected Christina. Ah, now he glimpses the nature of the problem.
A similar situation unfolds the following week, at the palace's observation of Holy Rood Day (the festival of the exaltation of the cross). Following morning Mass at the Abbey, the court has returned to the audience chamber. The 19-year-old princess has gone to great lengths to catch her husband's attention—wearing her most flattering dress, with her hair arranged in a style he is known to admire. But hers is a more humble beauty than that of her attendant, who is blessed with statuesque good looks.
The prince is once again fawning over the Danish courtesan—Lady Dorothea Haraldsdatter, the king has lately troubled himself to learn—while the princess is sadly neglected. According to the Danish ambassador, Dorothea's father is a wealthy and influential jarl in Denmark; Christina is burdened with a dynastic obligation to retain this rival in her entourage. When the girls resume staring daggers at each other across the room, the king knows it's time to nip this problem in the bud—before it blossoms into something much worse. If this Dorothea should bear a son of Lancaster before the princess, well... Who wants to be responsible for explaining that to Copenhagen?
The king casually drifts to within earshot of the couple, but they are oblivious—caught up in their own bubble of infatuation. William clears his throat.
"Your Highness," curtsies Dorothea, the blonde curls on her bowed head temporarily obscuring her flawless features. When she looks up, her blue eyes sparkle brilliantly and a smile plays across her lips. This lady-in-waiting is clearly pleased to have the attention of the sovereign.
"Lady Dorothea—a word in private, if you please." William's tone carries a warning that this is a command, not mere social pleasantry. Prince Henry arches an eyebrow in surprise and begins to utter an objection, but he is silenced with a look.
The King glares at his eldest son; why must the young be simultaneously impetuous and obtuse? "His Grace the Prince," William thunders, "may profit in the interval by renewing the acquaintance of his wife." Gesturing to the princess, the king continues. "Your gracious lady has taken special care to win your favour and compliments today—and you have paid her no heed. No other prince in Europe would be so careless with his wife's affection and goodwill."
Henry's look of consternation is quickly replaced by shame.
Dorothea Haraldsdatter, c. 1488.
William motions for Dorothea to enter an anteroom, in order to spare her the kind of public embarrassment just meted out to his son. As of now, she is forbidden from communicating with the Prince and is no longer welcome at the King's court. Dorothea will be entrusted to her ambassador for passage home, but must leave the kingdom within the week. Henceforth England to her must be no more than a distant shoreline and a fading memory.
This is not the sort of conversation any ambitious young lady-in-waiting desires or expects. Once dismissed the young woman bursts into tears, her barely muffled sobs echoing down the hallway. If Dorothea is exceedingly lucky she may arrive home before news of her expulsion, and thus have time to ply her noble parents with a suitable excuse. William's concern, however, is for his dynasty. A further lecture to his eldest son emphasises the importance—nay, the duty—of creating a legitimate heir and line of succession with one's wife. Dally with mistresses after one has attended to the duties of state; to do the opposite invites chaos.
After the following morning's prayers and Mass, King William and Queen Eleanor are pleased to note that the prince and princess are more communicative and solicitous of each other. Perhaps things may mend, in time.
The King spies some notorious court gossips pestering Christina for details on her attendant's sudden disappearance; the princess has a vaguely panic-stricken look. Time for a lesson in the artful dodge. "We received word that the mother of Lady Dorothea was stricken by illness and desired her daughter's comforting presence," he lies, resting a fatherly hand on the princess' shoulder. "What cruelty it would be to keep the girl at court in such circumstances."
And, thinks William, in the fullness of time it may yet prove to be true. Most noblewomen react very poorly to news of a daughter's expulsion from court.
The English agricultural economy has mostly recovered from the Black Death epidemics of the mid-14th century and the Peasants Revolt of 1381, but the most significant growth is in textiles, manufacturing and shipbuilding. Wool and cloth from England is being exported throughout Europe; metalworking (including pewter- and iron-working) is also fuelling a boom in exports. The nation's large and capable merchant fleet—previously used to resupply armies fighting in distant parts of Europe—is now profitably employed exporting English goods abroad, and importing exotic wares from foreign markets.
The end result is rising revenues for the nobility and gentry, who—in gratitude for William's steady patronage of commercial ventures—donate a portion of their windfall profits to the Crown.
THE DANISH CRUSADE
When Castile launched its 1486 crusade against the Ottoman Empire, few commentators of the age expected any measure of success. Though the Ottomans had just fought an exhausting decade-long war with the last Ascanian Emperor, their armies were still potent. Castile had committed relatively few forces, but its naval supremacy allowed it to take and hold areas that could be isolated from Ottoman counterattack—such as Epirus and Corfu. In London, Castile's invasion was seen as a mere stunt; a hopeless effort to gain influence in Greece and counter England's presence there. But others were not so quick to dismiss it.
While the Ascanian experience demonstrated that crusading could have very tangible and deadly negatives, England's 1456-57 effort (which helped pave the way for the 1463 personal union) proved that it could also have unexpected positives. An expeditionary war fought at extended ranges from home could—if successful—reap substantial international prestige for the ruler daring enough to undertake it. And in November of 1488, King Frederik I of Denmark was just such a man.
Though Denmark was by far the largest realm in northern Europe—and once home to Vikings that terrified the entire continent's northern shoreline—its military record in recent years was somewhat mixed. The pursuit of peace since the disastrous wars in Holstein left the Danish aristocracy hungry for something more. A chance to redeem themselves; to demonstrate to friends and foes alike that the new, unified Denmark was a military power to be reckoned with.
News of the Danes' crusade hits England like a thunderbolt. Crowds throughout the British Isles gather on the coast to watch the procession of crusader ships moving with stately grace toward the Mediterranean. Naturally, the Danish-born Princess of Wales is a frequent shoreline spectator and cheerleader. But the news has little impact on William. English policy since personal union has been to preserve—not expand—Byzantium's borders. To muzzle the Greek aristocracy's self-destructive thirst for well-fortified former territories (like Rhodes, Lesbos and Cyprus), since London was satisfied with merely keeping the Turk at arm's length. And truthfully, most Byzantine magnates were happy with the compromise too; especially after centuries of slow, agonising territorial losses. The king desires to continue this policy, thinking it wasteful in lives and resources to do otherwise. He will encounter opposition from an unlikely source.
The crusade awakens something of the political animal in the Princess of Wales, and she begins a subtle campaign to sway English support to the Danes. (Scholars still disagree on whether Christina was acting in collusion with her brother, Frederik I, or merely out of a good-natured concern for her former subjects.) Due to her efforts the Danish navy gains the use of English ports, including the incredibly strategic harbours of Gibraltar and Malta. And it is Christina's contemptuous remark—"It is strange to behold western Europe in a clamour for war against the Turk, while the Emperor of Constantinople counsels peace!"—that nearly shames both her husband and her father-in-law into action.
But despite all the prodding, war is not a foregone conclusion. That changes after William's principal secretary collates all the reports from ambassadors and spies abroad, and reaches a startling conclusion: the Castilians and Danes are all but guaranteed a victory.
Estimates of leader competency and army composition for selected states, late November 1488.
Following the Austrian defeat two years ago, conventional wisdom held that Turkish arms were capable of overwhelming any other European force. Now it's obvious that the Austrians had done real damage in their ten-year war, but it's the Castilians and Danes who will reap the benefits. The prospect of a Greece divided into English, Castilian and Danish spheres of influence is unpleasant, to say the least. To avoid it one would have to either prop up the Ottomans (an entirely unthinkable course to both English and Byzantine polities), or be the first to crush them. Though the Castilians and Danes have beaten England to the punch, their forces will trickle in slowly; neither has the large transport capability of the Navy Royal, which can move fully half of the English army at once.
The decision is made to embark expeditionary forces for Greece, though the formal declaration of war will not occur until some months later. Forty-three-year-old King William will lead the English armies personally, with Prince Henry as his deputy. The Earl of Derby, Charles James Benbow, and Benbow's highly capable son Stephen, Baron Strange, will command the other field forces. Queen Eleanor will remain in England to govern as regent.
Muslim states neighbouring Turkey soon detect its weakness, too. On February 19th, 1489, the Timurid Sultan and his ally the Shirvanshah declare war on the Ottoman Empire and its ally the Khanate of Kazan. Now the Ottomans are quite literally ringed by enemies.
On the Aegean island of Euboea, the Greek population is highly resentful of its Ottoman masters. Knowing that the Ottoman navy has been largely destroyed by Castile, they make a bid for freedom—and, potentially, reunification with their brethren on the mainland. (Greek patriot rebels seize Euboea.)
The Byzantine aristocracy quickly realises that this latent popular animosity can be exploited, and they soon fund additional revolts (using English finances) in the islands of Naxos.
Turkey, however, is not the only state troubled by rebellion.
In March of 1489 a pair of revolts erupt in Normandy and Gibraltar. The Norman revolt is led by fundamentalist heretics demanding stricter adherence to Catholicism and an end to toleration of the Eastern Orthodox church. The religious rebels cannot hope to overcome the Calais-Normandy garrison, however, and will be handily crushed in the following months.
The Gibraltar revolt is led by Moors who wish to resurrect an nation of their own in al-Andalus. Subduing this revolt takes a few months longer, as all of the Navy Royal's transports are moving forces to Greece. It is not until October that the Saintes-based Aquitaine garrison can be sent to reinforce Gibraltar.
THE GRAND CRUSADE
English expeditionary forces arrive in Greece by mid-March, and spend a further month training and becoming acclimated to their new environs. Because Queen Mary had declared the end of English crusading in 1479, the official fiction is that the war will protect Byzantine-English commerce, and punish longstanding Ottoman support of Berber piracy. But anyone who can read a map knows that the real goal is to grab Turkish territory in Greece before Castile and Denmark can do so.
By late April of 1489, messengers to English allies have confirmed their willingness to participate in a final massive effort to end Ottoman expansion in Europe. A war that—in combination with the Castilian and Danish conflicts—will come to be known as the Grand Crusade.
England, Byzantium, Austria, Portugal, the Netherlands and Cyprus go to war against the Ottoman Empire, the Kazan Khanate and the Chagatai Khanate.
It will be a costly effort for some. Especially Emperor Franz I Zwerger, who chooses to honour his alliance with fellow Catholics over keeping a three-year-old truce with the Muslims. (Austria takes -5 stability hit for breaking truce with the Ottomans.)
Currently, Ottoman forces are concentrated in the eastern areas of Anatolian Turkey, fighting the Timurids. Initial invasion plans call for English and Byzantine armies to race eastward, seizing the Turkish capital of Adrianople (Edirne) and other towns throughout Bulgaria. When the Greek and Balkan Ottoman territories are secured, the allies will cross into Anatolia and crush the Turkish armies between crusaders from the west and Timurids from the east.
Opening movement plans for the Grand Crusade.
Fortunately for the allies, Ottoman resistance is virtually nonexistent. By July 2nd, English armies are sieging Thessalonica, Philippopolis (Plovdiv) and Varna, while a joint English-Byzantine force surrounds Adrianopolis. The first of several Austrian armies arrives in Bulgaria (by way of Serbia) the following month.
Encouraged by the arrival of foreign armies and apparent Ottoman weakness, a Bulgarian revolt begins in the province of Silistria.
The French reconquest of papal lands rages on through the summer of 1489. After a particularly long and bitter siege, Papal Dauphiny capitulates in early September. Still smarting at the lost opportunity to depose Pope Celestine VI, the French king looks the other way as his troops ravage the defeated towns. The palace of the Bishop of Grenoble is looted and set aflame, as are many ordinary churches and monasteries. Even pro-French gentry and clergymen have to pay to save their properties from despoiling soldiers.
In response, Pope Celestine VI excommunicates King Louis XIII and the entire French nation. It is a toothless gesture, as the major powers that might be looking for an excuse to war against Louis (namely Castile and England) are presently engaged in crusades against the Turk.
The gallowglass were mercenaries from Scotland's rugged western seaboard, primarily the Hebrides and county of Argyll. Centuries ago the Hebrides had once been a part of the Viking dominions, and were known in Gaelic (language of the Irish, Manx and Scots) as the Innse-Gall, or "Isles of the Foreigners". This formulation of gall is present in "gallowglass", an anglicisation of the Gaelic gallóglach (plural form gallóglaigh). The Gaelic word óglach means "youth", "servant" or "warrior"; gallóglach is thus "foreign warrior"—in other words a warrior from the Norsemen's Isles.
Though their genesis was in 13th century Scotland, gallowglass fighting traditions and customs were quickly assimilated by the Irish, whose chieftains and warlords routinely hired them. Gallowglass were infamous for use of massive two-handed weapons, such as the sparth axe and claymore (claidheamh mór). They were lightly armoured by the standard of continental men-at-arms, wearing mail shirts over padded jackets and iron helmets. Like a knight, a gallóglach was accompanied by young retainers, one of whom carried his throwing spears while the other carried his provisions. Until the 15th century, warfare in Ireland was so endemic that no Irish chief could hope to retain power without a sizeable contingent of gallowglass mercenaries. In wartime they formed the chief's elite shock troops; in peace, they acted as his personal guard and enforcers of his will.
But with the extension of English suzerainty over the Irish chiefs, and their political absorption in 1448, there was little need to employ raiding mercenaries in Ireland. Some gallowglass simply abandoned the lifestyle and took up more peaceful occupations; others tried to adapt to the methods and equipment of Anglo-Norman warfare. A small minority continued "freelancing" for themselves, waylaying the goods and liverymen of Anglo-Irish lords. In the late 15th century, the Lord Deputy of Ireland has a sudden revelation; the surviving mercenaries are not merely a terrifying nuisance to the local population, but a resource that can be utilised by the Crown. From 1490 onward, every English army will field a regiment of shock troops trained in the traditions and weaponry of Scots-Irish gallóglaigh.
FORTUNA BELLI FLUXA
Back in the Balkans, the Earl of Derby successfully captures the city of Varna after a 177-day siege. Not long afterward, Bulgarian rebels in Silistria succeed in taking that province and quickly turn their attentions south. Despite mutual enmity toward the Turks, the crusaders and rebels cannot agree on the administration of occupied Bulgarian provinces, and the disagreement soon leads to a clash of arms.
Other victories follow in quick succession. The Ottoman capital of Adrianople (Edirne) falls to a joint English-Byzantine force on December 18th, and a Greek commander is installed as military governor.
In neighbouring Salonica, the fall of the Turkish capital creates additional popular unrest. Ottoman peasants rise up against their besieged aristocracy in January of 1490, demanding lower taxes and more autonomy. Stephen Benbow's siege army finds itself in an awkward position; he must capture Thessalonica from the Ottoman garrison defending it, while fending off outraged peasants who are unhappy with both their local government and the foreign invaders.
Unfortunately, another sizeable Bulgarian revolt erupts in Burgas. Though he manages to inflict punishing losses on the rebels, Benbow the Elder is defeated and forced to withdraw. He retreats toward the king's encampment near Philippopolis.
Back in England, Parliament accedes to the Queen Regent's request and authorises funds to begin recruiting an additional 12,000 infantry. The new troops will be used to conduct more sieges in Ottoman territory.
In February, the nearby Despotate of Serbia adds its support to the Grand Crusade by declaring war on the Ottoman Empire. The Despot of Serbia's war effort is joined by fellow Orthodox stalwart the Tsar of Russia and—interestingly—the Duke of Bavaria.
On the diplomatic front, English messengers have made contact with representatives of the distant Chagatai Khanate. The loss of the Ottoman capital and key cities in the Balkans has made the Khan's ally seem weak and ineffectual; skilful English diplomats convince the foreign potentates that the crusaders' victory is all but inevitable. It is better for the Khanate to disentangle itself from the folly of a hopeless war.
But it's the crusaders' position that begins to look hopeless in the spring of 1490. Confident that the Sultan and his armies were busy battling Timurids in eastern Anatolia, the allies have spread themselves too thinly by trying to occupy as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible.
They are surprised and shocked when Sultan Cihangir I Osmanli and his 18,000-strong Army of Egypt appear in Bithynia, destroying a sizeable Byzantine siege force. The sultan then crosses the Bosporus and, bypassing Constantinople, marches further westward.
In April, Cihangir easily crushes Edirne's small Byzantine constabulary force, then pauses to erect siege works around his enemy-occupied capital. He is within striking distance of three English armies, but even with their forces combined they will be at a 3-4,000 man disadvantage.
And their leader—this William III of England—is no gambler; he is too methodical to be a good general. Right now the king and his attendants will be poring over their maps; the Earl of Derby and his son will favour an early attack, while the English king will desire to linger and complete his sieges first. If Allah wills it, Cihangir will have plenty of time to engage each siege army one by one, and overwhelm them with superior concentration of force.
The sultan gives the order to march northwest, toward the crusaders.
In western Europe, a different sort of crusade staggers toward a conclusion. The papal provinces of Avignon and Dauphiné have been occupied by the French, and Celestine's army is too exhausted and traumatised by past wars; it can offer no further resistance. On May 4th the Pope concedes defeat, ceding Avignon to France along with a minor ransom for captured officers.
ENGLAND c. 1490
William III Lancaster (ADM 5/DIP 3/MIL 4)
By the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland and France and Lord of Ireland
True Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine
~ Burgundy (Duke Henri III Lancaster-Valois-Bourgogne)
~ Cyprus (Basileus Eudes III Lancaster-Lusignan)
~ Lüneburg (Duke Friedrich III Lancaster-Brunswick-Lüneburg)
Treasury: £26.4 million (264m ducats)
GDP (estimated): £107.97 million (1,079.7m ducats)
Domestic CoTs: London £44.01 million (440.17m ducats), Constantinople £16.46 million (164.69m ducats)
Army: 12,000 Knights (Chevauchée), 24,000 Gallóglaigh
Reserves (potential levies): 8,095
Navy: 24 Carracks, 24 Pinnaces, 21 Cogs
Tradition: Army 11.90% Navy 7.30%
Prestige: Forty-sixth (20.80)
Reputation: Slightly Tarnished (1.69/15.00)