Born to Breed: The Estridsen Lectures
Asger I Estridsen – His Youth
general rejoicing, England says no girls, general backwardness, a cousin for every occasion, about the unworthy, the Caliph makes his move, observations on the letter 'd' and historical direct-to-TV series, romance and screenwriters, It Came From the Desert, a familiar tale, boy meets girl, diverse alarums, a digression, the campaign of 1115, deva vu, the red Nile, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers, the reckoning, not with a bang, but a whimper, historical coughs, the glory of 1120, “On Obliteration”, an end to war, bodily opinions, the issue of issue, king to king, peas in a pod, on the competitive spirit and madness, competition, and victory.
Asger I, king, 1113 A.D.
Welcome back, class.
The year is 1113, the king is dead, and the people rejoice at his demise. He leaves behind two young children, a boy, Asger, and a girl, Rikissa. The girl is the older at 15, but is deemed unsuited for the rulership of England by the people due to the nature of her sex, they being then as now a rather backwards part of the realm, making Asger I at 9 the rightful king of Denmark and England with a cousin as his regent.
In Denmark as in England, nobles hungry for power view the power vacuum as an opportunity for advancement and in distant Rome itself, unworthy members of the church plot against the crown when the holy father's attention is elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the realm's holdings in Alexandria are under attack by the Caliph, who has united the saracens against the Danish intrusion in the region, and have declared a Jihad – Holy War.
In other words, the situation is dire and death, destruction, and many other fateful words beginning with 'd' are entirely applicable to the situation, which thus seems tailor-made for a historical direct-to-TV series lacking only a romance element, which can always be supplied. Screenwriters seldom have problems in that regard.
Indeed, last year's smash hit, “It Came From the Desert: A Tale of True Love”, while lamentably inaccurate in every possible historical way despite its claims to portray the life of the Great General of the Cross, is nevertheless a rousing story of derring-do during the times of King Asger's minority: Boy meets girl, boy and girl have mad passionate sex, boy joins the army, girl is eaten by an deranged camel, boy goes whoring across the continent while slaughtering infidels against the backdrop of a world gone mad, boy joins a monastery in old age and receives a vision of girl as he lies dying in the grip of a hideous disease... it is a familiar story seen in a thousand plays since the Bard's spectacular “A Midsummer Night's Scream”, and it never gets old. But I digress.
The Formative Years
So, what was life like for the boy king, you might well ask? He was tutored in the arts of statecraft and combat by the top men of Denmark and early showed a considerable interest in military strategy, no doubt nurtured by the stream of reports arriving from Egypt. His tutors tried to foster a strong sense of kindness, honesty, charity, diligence, and duty in him, and were to a large degree successful. These things are known, but little else is known of his childhood.
Thus we'll leave what is best left to speculation to the philosophers and novelists and concentrate on the cold hard facts of the major influence during his minority: The Alexandrine Jihad.
The Saracen Jihad, 1114
Though initially repulsed in 1112 with heavy casualties, the Caliph spent 1113 rallying support to his cause. With his enemy, king Lennart, dead, seemingly by divine providence, there were no shortage of saracen rulers ready to join the struggle, either as part of the Caliph's Jihad or in adventurers of their own. By 1114 much of the sunni muslim world was up in arms, and fresh armies were invading Alexandria, armies of a size to dwarf what had come before.
There were four separate main thrusts: The Caliphal Jihad, the Kermanshahi Jihad, the Mervian Jihad, and the Esfahanian Jihad. Of these the Kermanshai and Esfahanan were sideshows to the main action, featuring armies of only a few thousand men each, while the Mervian Jihad, led by Beylerbey Savur I of Merv, who rallyied many saracen princes to his cause, rivalled the Caliph's Jihad for scope and ambition.
The Caliphal Jihad, 1114
The Danish regency spent 1114 quelling internal dissent, but by spring 1115 it had the backing of a sufficient portion of the nobility to field an army with some hope of slowing the saracen tide before all of Danish Alexandria was lost.
Holding Back the Tide, Spring 1115
The campaign of 1115 was bloody:
Campaign of 1115
Despite scoring a series of great victories, the Danish armies were too weak to stand on the offensive, so once the saracen tide had been checked, many of the levies returned to Denmark leaving the mercenaries and local levies to hold the Alexandria during 1116. Given a bloody nose, the saracens spent 1116 skirmishing with the mercenaries and rearming, with the result that they were back in force in 1117.
Deja Vu – 1117 is 1115 All Over Again
1117 was a replay of 1115. It is said that so much blood was shed that the Nile flowed red the last 100 kilometers to the sea, though this is likely an exaggeration. Determined to end the war, the Danish regency threw everything into a spring campaign in 1118, enlisting the support of Hugues de Payens and his newly formed order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, fresh on the heels of their order's official recognition by the Church.
The Knights Templar Form, 1118
Those stalwart defenders of the cross that were to feature so prominently in Danish history faced a true baptism of fire but they passed the test and smote the infidel hip and thigh. In joint command with the Estridssen dukes they never faltered and they fought the length and breath of Danish Alexandria throughout 1118 and 1119.
The first Jihad against Alexandria ended not so much with a bang, as with a whimper. The Caliph sued for peace in June, 1118, after seven bloody years of warfare. The Kermanshi Jihad dragged on until August 1119 and the Esfahanian Jihad finally ended in January 1120. Only the Mervian Jihad lingered on, driven by the implacable will and uncountable soldiers of Beylerbey Savur I, but even he was pressing his attacks with less vigour than in former years.
Now, it might be suspected that 1120 would become yet another of those years to go unremarked in the history books, a mere cough to mark the passing of time until 1121, but this was not to be the case. Indeed, 1120 was a truly great year, one of those marking the beinning of great deeds, and it is not without reason that we to this very day celebrate April 5th as a national holiday.
The Glorious Year 1120
Asger I, being then in his last year of minority, was visiting the province of Alexandria for the first time to give him a safe taste of the war he had dreamed of and practiced for from the safety of Ringsted for so long.
No longer a boy, king Asger was mighty-thewed and, standing 6'2” while still not having attained his full growth, he was a giant by the standards of the time and was on the verge of becoming a man with a man's desires and a king's ambitions. Moved to unexpected oratorical heights by the sight of the Alexandrine garrison, that had suffered so much and so harshly under the saracen attacks, he gave the famed “On Obliteration” speech, which so moved the populace that the last doubters spontaneously converted to the true faith.
Alexandria Converts, April 5th, 1120.
Buoyed by the acclaim heaped upon him by potentates near and far, it was a confident young man who returned to the capital took up the reigns of power upon the end of the regency. He'd by then been king for nearly half his life and he was prepared for the worst. The only thing marring the future was the likely end of the Alexandrine wars, for though his head desired peace, his heart cried out for the clash of arms and the glory to be won on the battlefield, and his other body parts held private opinions too.
The End of the Regency, September 24th, 1120.
There was, of course, one major issue to resolve before seeking the battlefield. The issue of issue, as it were. The issue was resolved by divine providence aided by a competitive spirit.
The King of Bohemia had two daughters, as alike as peas in a pod, if peas came in tightly wrapped form-fitting size 5'6” with eyes to kill for, smiles to die for, and huge tracts of land, though that's a pretty large pod, come to think of it, so this particular simile may need some work. Be that as it may, the King of Bohemia had two daughters, twins, Zofie and Bozislava, and he brought the twins along on a state visit to king Asger's coronation, obviously trolling for a royal catch.
The International Marriage Market, 1120
The young king was enchanted. Zofie had a biting tongue and the quicker wit, Bozislava the calm head and the gentle wisdom, and being double-teamed by two such beauties competing for his fancy, for they sore wished to marry this handsome young ruler far from the gloomy depths of Bohemia, the one with a nice rustic castle, splendid beaches, and the largest kingdom in the north, was more than any man could resist; the local competition stood no chance. The princesses were very competitive.
The negotiations with the king of Bohemia must have been spirited, for it is written in the Gesta Danorum that on the fourth night of negotiations the Bohemian king, being deep in his cups, was driven to the verge of madness by the relentless badgering of his daughters as to who was best suited as a political bride and, finally dropping off the edge and entering free fall while happily waving sanity farewell in the distance, he offered king Asger a once in a lifetime two for the price of one deal to take his daughters off his hands.
It being against church law, king Asger refused, no doubt with some regrets that he didn't live in earlier and less strict times but possibly also with some reflection upon the problems of too many women under one roof. Be that as it may, Saxo states that king Asger in a flash of divine inspiration arranged a competition for the twins to resolve the issue without any hard feelings.
The two ladies being too wonderful to choose between, he explained, and he being a martial young fellow who could be expected to spend most of his life in the saddle, he'd marry the better rider, who was able to keep up with him. Saxo is unfortunately vague on the competition as that particular section of the Gesta Danorum was lost in the unfortunate incident of 1611. Apart from a few words condemning ring-riding, there's nothing left. Was the competition, perchance, a long distance race, an endurance match, a sprint, or were there several disciplines? If the latter, was the maligned ring-riding one of them? Did the competition take place the next day or later that week? Did the twins enter the competition with the same glee and competitive spirits they had displayed before? We shall never know.
What is known is that Zofie Presmylid won and thus became queen of Denmark, while her sister returned to Bohemia.
King Asger and Queen Zofie, 1120