300 Years a Prince - Narrative AAR - HRE Minor 1337-1637 (Part 2)

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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

theosZA

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Bishop Josef of Ulm, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church


July 1500

Bishop Josef wasn't used to being kept waiting. After all he was a Cardinal in the Catholic Curia and no small amount of respect was owed to his status. But he knew four years ago when he accepted Duke Konrad von Württemberg's offer to move to Ulm - an offer that included a bigger church and better financial support than the city of Memmingen could provide - that he would have to serve at the Duke's pleasure.



He waited now in the council chambers with the rest of the Duke's council. They were obviously used to their lord's habits and in the meantime discussed details about the Duchy among themselves. Perhaps it was a blessing that he had been denied a role in the Duchy's administration even though he'd already proven himself as a valuable conduit between Swabia and Rome.

Josef heard the Duke's approach long before he even reached the council chambers. The rest of the council quietened as the smartly dressed 46-year old Duke finally entered, accompanied by the entourage of nobles that were attending him. Josef had heard of the increasing formalities surrounding the Duke's life with elaborate ceremonies leading to opulent lifestyles for those privileged nobility of Swabia who surrounded him. It seemed that even something as simple as a council meeting was subject to this.



And the funding for these practices were all coming out of the Duchy's coffers, much to the consternation of the other councillors Josef judged based on the tenor of their conversations that had just ended. Once the Duke was seated at the head of the council table, the attendant nobles were dismissed, much to the relief of the rest of the council. This left only a bodyguard and the Duke's second son, Adalhard. The awkward child, just fifteen years old, looked like he'd rather be anywhere else but at this council meeting. Josef sympathized with the poor boy, but like Adalhard, he also had a duty to perform.

Duke Konrad made only the barest gesture and the Master of the Mint, Raphael Susenbrot, launched into his explanation of the growing debt problem. A litany of numbers read from Raphael's notes seemed to bore Konrad.

"The only thing keeping the Duchy afloat," Raphael concluded, "is the sizable stipend from the Premyslids to ensure Margaret's lifestyle is kept to a suitable standard." Margaret was the young wife of the Duke's heir, Ulrich. It seemed the gifts were being used for purposes other than the poor Premyslid daughter. From Raphael's tone he seemed quite relieved that the Duke wasn't too proud to turn down these Bohemian gifts as the Swabian treasury sorely needed them.



Raphael had barely stopped talking when the councillor Meinhard Agather began to speak. He was a trader from Ulm and although of commoner stock and dressed more simply than Raphael, he looked like he could have been his older brother. It seemed Meinhard and Raphael were of one mind because Meinhard's speech simply echoed Raphael's concerns.

Konrad slammed his fist on the council table, interrupting Meinhard's speech mid-sentence. "I grow tired of the both of you. I chose you two for this council for your keen intellect, not your oratory skills. Instead of complaining about my Duchy's necessary expenditures, I want to hear ideas and solutions."

This got both Meinhard and Raphael talking at the same time for a few seconds before they settled into a routine of taking turns to present their proposals for reforming trade, revolutionizing industry and rebuilding the administration of the Duchy. Josef was convinced that the two had gone too far. He sensed anxiety from the Duke and he half-expected Konrad to throw the pair out of his council chambers. But perhaps the Duke's fear of running out of funds was even greater as he eventually gave the two approval to proceed with their plans.



Konrad seems almost relieved to turn to Josef. "I'm informed you have very important news from the Church to bring to the council."

"It is dire news and a grave warning I bring from His Holiness himself," Josef began. "In the Croatian lands, not so far from our own borders, Andrija Jamometić, a monk from the respected Jamomet noble family, has been turning locals against the Roman Church. In their latest act they have torched the Zagreb Cathedral. Pope Eustratios II has decreed the teachings of Andrija as heretical and all those who follow them shall henceforth be excommunicated.

"And my Lord, I have seen how such sentiment can spread like a plague. I urge you to watch out for such heresies and purge them from Swabia and Brandenburg."



Despite Josef's concern, Konrad just shrugged. "It is a trifling matter ... just something those Slavs do from time to time, no doubt due to the past influence of the Eastern Church."

Josef didn't think it was as simple as that and wanted to emphasize his cautions, but he didn't get the opportunity to voice anything further as Konrad was already animatedly discussing military matters with Captain Alarich Isentrude.

March 1501

Bishop Josef was once again waiting in the Duke's council chambers, this time nursing a headache from overindulgence the night before. Yesterday he'd presided over the wedding of Adalhard, the Duke's second son who he'd seen at the council meeting 8 months prior, and Agnes Reginar, youngest sister of the Duke of Carinthia. The wedding feast was lavish as expected from Duke Konrad, and there had been eating and drinking late into the night.



But despite the previous night's celebrations, the Duke insisted on a council meeting early the next morning before Josef returned to Ulm. Josef had insisted that he present his news to the council and so perhaps this was just the Duke's way to try dissuade him from attending future council meetings.

Duke Konrad arrived in short order, looking bright and cheery, and ready to engage with his council. The usual nobles who accompanied him did not look like they wanted to be out of bed this early and were relieved when, after the usual ceremonies were concluded, Konrad dismissed them.

And so it wasn't long before Bishop Josef was telling the Duke and assembled councillors of the troubles to the North. "Anti-Church protests have been spreading in the Scandinavian lands. Norway has struggled mightily in their wars against Sweden, recently losing the rest of their northern territory to them. The plundered towns near Stavanger turned to the teachings of that heretical Croatian monk, Andrija Jamometić, in their difficult time. Such a fervour had spread among those towns that eventually the King of Norway, with no remaining soldiers to call on, was forced to accept these Protestant demands, turning away from the Roman Church."



The Duke didn't look overly concerned. He just turned to the diplomat, Landolf Sofie, and asked him, "What of the Norwegian alliances? I heard Skåne fought alongside Norway in their last war against Sweden."

Landolf nodded his head, paused for a moment before cautiously responding, "As far as we know, Skåne has not forsaken their alliance with Norway."

Even Josef was aware of how fickle Duke Konrad was with his alliances and Landolf had no doubt chosen his words carefully to not rankle the Duke. But it wasn't enough. Duke Konrad pushed himself up from his chair, balled up his fists as if to fight, and then loudly demanded, "How can they still associate with those heretics?"

Josef worried about the Duke's reaction. Why was he so focused on his nephew's Duchy when clearly the problem was this growing anti-Church sentiment? But even as Josef tried to understand him, Konrad had already turned his attention to the pair of Meinhard and Raphael. The two were eagerly presenting all the improvements that they'd brought to Swabia in the last few months, swelling the duchy's coffers and going a long way towards repaying the outstanding debts.



"The most significant change," Raphael was explaining, "is the integration of the Brandenburg lands into the Swabian administration. This has eliminated the duplication of effort, increased efficiency and cut out the needless Brandenburg bureaucrats.

"And the most important consequence," Meinhard interjected, "is that most of the Duchy's significant trading concerns have relocated to Berlin to link up with the profitable Baltic trade."



And no doubt Meinhard's own businesses were thriving from this, Josef thought, though he kept his mouth shut as Konrad seemed to appreciate what the pair had accomplished.

"And Skåne is only a stone's throw across the Baltic from Brandenburg's Stralsund," Konrad muttered under his breath. Josef thought he might have been the only one who'd heard it as the dynamic duo were continuing with their report. Josef wondered, What exactly is our Duke planning?

 

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Konrad Michael, Swabian Officer


February 1506

Konrad Michael wasn't sure what he was doing here - here in Stuttgart, here in the castle before the Duke of Swabia with whom he shared a Christian name. He was merely the third son of a tanner from the nearby town of Tübingen though his path in life had led him now to commanding a small outfit of Swiss mercenaries. The Duke wasn't fighting any wars just at the moment but perhaps he wanted to hire his men?

The Duke's audience chamber was crowded and intimidating. The Duke, currently seated on his ornate chair, was talking to a man Konrad recognized, Alarich Isentrude, Captain of the Swabian army. Dozens of other nobles stood around, staring at him, possibly also wondering why this lowborn man wearing bloodstained leathers had been admitted into their fancy hall.

Captain Alarich took a few steps back and the Duke turned his gaze on Konrad Michael and address him directly. "My own nobles have grown vainglorious and weak. None of them know how to lead the new gunpowder armies and simply want to charge into battle on horseback."

The assembled nobles shifted uncomfortably. No doubt the Duke's comments were on the mark, but his forthrightness was unexpected. The Duke continued, "I need experienced men, those who understand the modern battlefield, to lead my armies.



"I've been informed that although of common stock, you have learned to read and write, that you were conscripted from Tübingen and fought with our local regiments against Tirol a decade ago, and that on the conclusion of that unfortunate war you turned mercenary. And since then you've risen in the mercenary ranks to being a regimental commander."

"Yes, my Lord," responded Konrad Michael as confidently as he could.

"You come highly recommended by my Captain here. You have the battle experience, the leadership skills, and, I hope, some loyalty to the people of this Duchy, everything I'm looking for in a Swabian officer. Konrad Michael of Tübingen, will you lead my army?"

A commission in the Swabian army? It's not something he'd thought possible. He'd risen as far as he could within his mercenary company and the Duke had assessed his ambition correctly. "My Lord, how could I refuse such a generous offer. Of course I will serve you and this Duchy in any way you deem fit."



Even though he was excited for this opportunity, Konrad's curiosity was growing. Since even before Konrad's conscription all those years ago, the Duke had been focusing on turning his army into a modern offensive force capable of taking the attack to the enemy. As such Konrad suspected that the Duke wasn't bringing him in now just to upset his nobles. No, he obviously had something in mind, so he asked the Duke, in as deferential a tone as he could, "But may I ask my Lord if you have a possible war in mind? My restless soldier's heart is not used to periods of peace."



The Duke chuckled. "My Captain has chosen wisely I think as it seems you and I are of one mind. Well, let me briefly explain... With the recent death of King Matthias of Bohemia, his eldest daughter, Osterhild Opavan Premyslid, has ascended to the throne of Bohemia. And while she is Queen, my eldest son and heir, Ulrich, is married to her younger sister, Margaret.



"Now Bohemia has a few holdings along the Baltic coast, not far from our own Brandenburg holdings. The city of Kolberg lies between those holdings and the Duchy of Stolp, and is claimed by both of them. Queen Osterhild has asked us to join them in asserting her claim over the city. Of course we will accept and I expect you to lead our armies north within a month."



Konrad Michael wondered if that was all there was to it. Duke Konrad had a reputation for not doing anything for his allies unless it advantaged him somehow.

May 1507

This time when Konrad Michael entered the audience chamber he felt a lot more confident. Even more of the Swabian nobility was gathered here compared to his first visit, but much had changed for him in the last year so that he felt more comfortable in their presence. For one he had been outfitted with ceremonial garb more befitting his position as a high-ranking officer of Swabia. And for another he brought them good news for the war against the Duchy of Stolp had been won already.



"The war is won, my Lord," Konrad reported. "The enemy forces were destroyed in detail while our own losses were insignificant, bar a couple of merchant vessels."

In truth much of the work had already been done by Bohemia, and his own army was used for mopping up the Stolp remnants and besieging their capital. Perhaps the Duke expected this, Konrad thought, so he followed up by qualifying, "Though I must say that the war was easier than expected since Stolp's allies, Sweden and Sjælland, were busy with their own war against Norway and Skåne."

The man who spoke next was an elderly, grey-bearded gentleman that Konrad now recognized as the diplomat Landolf Sofie. "That war has gone very poorly for Norway and Skåne. Norway has lost further land to Sweden, and Skåne has lost its homeland within Scandinavia. Besides a few islands, the remaining Scanian territory now lies to the east along the Baltic, on the old pagan frontier."



The Duke immediately stood up, his face a mask of rage. He made a visible effort to calm himself, then began speaking softly to the assembled nobles, "The Norwegians are heretics and we don't give a damn for them. But Skåne... How can they fight alongside our Protestant enemies of the Church? It was bad enough when regents made that choice, but Valdemar now rules in his own right and that rule is tainted by such associations."

The Duke's speech grew louder. "It is clear that Valdemar is not fit to rule Skåne. The former Duke of Skåne, aged and ailing as he was, could not have been in his right mind when he chose his successor. Valdemar's father, Hermann, is my own younger brother and so, quite simply, the Duchy of Skåne should have been mine."

The Duke was now almost shouting, working the assembly into a fever of excitement. "As such we shall take the title that is rightfully mine by force of arms!"



So this was it, Konrad thought. The war against Stolp was just a practice run - an opportunity to test his men and Konrad Michael in paricular - ahead of the chance for the big prize.

The Duke continued, "We will assemble the greatest army this Duchy has ever seen, and then we march East into that wild frontier."



Looking at Konrad, the Duke said, "With the glories that my new general has won in the war against Stolp..." Looking at Landolf, "With the allies that our diplomats have brought to our side..." And then looking our across all the assembled nobles, "With the righteousness of our cause, surely all brave, good-hearted men of Swabia and Brandenburg will rush to fill the ranks and fight for our Duchy's honour!"



To a man the nobles cheered. It seems that they're all eager for war at least, Konrad thought, but I don't expect this war to be as easy as the last.
 

theosZA

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Duke Konrad of Swabia


June 1507

Duke Konrad looked over the beautiful painted map unfurled across his council chamber table, once again assessing the likely dispotion of forces in the coming war. He'd been ruling Swabia for 31 years and for all that time fate and incompetent underlings had thwarted his every plan. But this time was going to be different. For now he'd surrounded himself with the best men in the Duchy and beyond, and they were all gathered here in this council chamber. Surely this time he was not going to be denied - he was going to accomplish the greatest achievement for the Duchy since it had formed.

Landolf Sofie, the man they'd all been waiting for, entered the council chamber. The diplomat was four years older than Konrad and, though not an official part of Konrad's council, he'd been serving as the head of the Duchy's diplomatic corps for more than a decade.

"It is done my Lord Duke," Landolf reported. "As expected the Scanian nobles have declined to accept you as their rightful Duke and I have issued our declaration of war upon them."



Landolf continued, "It appears that Norway is too weak and plagued with religious issues to come to their aid. Only the von Schauenburg Duchy of Holstein defends them. And my diplomats report that all our own allies will support our cause."



Raphael Susenbrot, the Duchy's Master of the Mint, gave a short cough to interrupt. Konrad sighed. The man was undoubtedly brilliant - between him and Meinhard they'd really turned the Duchy's dire financial situation around - but his constant complaining really got on Konrad's nerves. "Yes, Raphael, what is it?"

"My Lord, our treasury grows low supporting your grand army. We don't even have enough to pay for our current men, let alone hire any new ones."

Konrad reined in his anger. "Raphael, it's your job to find the necessary coin. Issue special war taxes, borrow more money, whatever is needed. Understand this... only God Himself can be allowed to stop the successful prosection of this war."



He turned now to his new general, Konrad Michael. The former mercenary showed much potential having just returned from victory against Brandenburg's enemy, Stolp.

The general reported, "The army is currently stationed in Brandenburg and eager for war. Through training and recent experience in battle, each unit has been turned into a well-disciplined company ready to fight for the Duchy's honour. As soon you give the word, I will head north and lead them against Skåne."



"Not just yet. my loyal general," Duke Konrad responded. "Count Ludwig of Stralsund will take command of that army for now." The Count of Stralsund wasn't one of his completely incompetent nobles and Konrad thought he should at least be able to handle the relatively simple task he had for him. "I expect him to hold off attacks from the Holstein army until our allies' armies reach the Baltic.

"No, General, instead I want you to take command of your old mercenary regiment using funds that Raphael here will find for you." Duke Konrad glanced pointedly at his Master of the Mint. "Then you are to seize Breisgau. This province of Skåne's right on our border is a thorn in our side that must be removed at once.



"Once that's accomplished, you can link up with our allies and ensure the south is secure. Only then should you head north."

General Konrad Michael nodded his head in acknowledgement. "As you will, my Lord."

"Very good. Now you all know what needs to be done - off to it," Duke Konrad concluded, dismissing everyone. As the men were leaving, Konrad turned back to studying the map, trying to anticipate every possibility. Surely he'd thought of everything - nothing could be allowed to go wrong.

February 1508

Konrad von Württemberg opened his eyes and was confused. Why was he lying abed in the middle of the day? He had to get up and convene in the council chambers for the war against Skåne continued and needed his direction. He thought he heard the sounds of battle outside the walls of Stuttgart Castle but dismissed the thought. His head was all fuzzy and he wasn't thinking clearly - surely he was just imagining it.

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up but was hit with a wave of dizziness and nausea. He sat down on the bed and closed his eyes. He could not afford to show weakness in front of his men. He would have to hope this spell passed.



"My Lord, my Lord," a loud voice rang in Konrad's ears. "What are you doing up? You have a terrible fever and need to lie down and rest." Konrad opened his eyes and recognized his physician though the man's name escaped him.

"The Duchy depends on me," Konrad said raspingly through a sore throat. "I must convene my council."

"That's impossible my Lord. The castle is under siege, your generals are all in the field and the other councillors have fled for the safety of Berlin or the countryside. Only your eldest son remains here."

"Fetch him for me," Konrad asked as he lay back down and closed his eyes again. He felt the soothing coolness of a damp piece of cloth placed across his forehead and then heard the footsteps of the physician leaving the room.

The dizziness and nausea abated somewhat as he tried to focus his mind on the course of the war. He recalled the early successes, how the timely arrival of Konrad Michael's mercenaries to attack the enemy's rear at the pivotal battle of Nassau had ensured a shattering victory, breaking the enemy armies apart and allowing them to be picked off piecemeal.



How had his enemies managed to put together a large enough army to besiege Stuttgart now? Since he'd become Duke 32 years ago he'd focused his army's efforts on attacking - destroying enemy armies and quickly taking enemy fortifications. He'd reasoned that if his armies were always on the offensive, what need was there for defense?

Is this what he'd been reduced to, reflecting on the direction for the Duchy and second-guessing his choices? After all, he hadn't neglected the people of his Duchy. The morality regulations that had been instituted, for example, had certainly brought increased safety and justice for the common folk.



He heard men enter his room and thought he heard the voice of his son, Ulrich, but couldn't open his eyes. "I fear I'm growing weaker, my son," he managed to get out though it pained him now to speak.

"Father Thomas is on his way," his son replied. The chaplain? His son must think he was dying. Maybe he was. Did that mean his greatest glory would elude him?

"If I should pass on, you must continue what I've started." He wanted to explain how to continue the war, how focusing all efforts on Holstein's heartland would bring them to terms, before turning their armies east. But the words wouldn't come to him and even breathing had become laborious.

* * *​

Konrad Michael galloped over the bridge crossing the Neckar and through the light woods and fields that characterized the two mile approach to Stuttgart Castle. Everywhere was littered with bodies and the silence was only punctuated by the groans of men who were not quite dead.

It wasn't long before he reached the castle. He dismounted and approached the opening castle gate. Ulrich von Württemberg emerged from the castle, the young man looking tired and worn out, almost like he'd been fighting in the battle himself.

"You can let your father know that the siege is over and our enemies put to flight," he reported to Ulrich.



"My father is dead," said Ulrich solemnly. "I am now Duke of Swabia and Skåne. And together we will defeat the Scanians who will not accept my rule."

 

stnylan

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Sometimes you just have to pass the power on
 

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Duke Ulrich of Swabia


October 1508

As the sun slowly set in front of him, Duke Ulrich led his cavalry through the streets of Berlin; nearly a thousand mounted men trotting the cobbles of the lime-tree lined avenue, presenting their new duke to the people as well as to reassure them in this time of war.



As they crossed the bridge over the Spree, Ulrich stole a quick glance at General Konrad Michael who rode beside him. He flashed the roguish former mercenary a quick smile before turning his attention to the Berlin Ducal Palace which lay before them. Built by his father to assert control over the former Duchy of Brandenburg, Ulrich couldn't remember his father ever actually visiting it.

Gathered in the palace courtyard to greet them were a bevy of nobles with all their attendants, desperate for some scraps of Ulrich's favour. A few of his counts were leading men in the war, but under General Konrad most of the army had been turned into a professional force and there was little place for these nobles in these times.



Emerging from the assembled crowd was his younger brother, Adalhard. Ulrich dismounted and hugged his brother in welcome. At 23 years old, Adalhard was nearly fifteen years younger than Ulrich. Ulrich had been almost a man when his brother was born and, since now he never lay with his Bohemian wife, it was hard for Ulrich not to think of Adalhard as the son he knew he'd never have.

"Adalhard," Ulrich said, "it's been too long since I've seen you."

"Brother, your ride from Stuttgart has been long and no doubt full of peril. I'm sure you're hungry and the cooks have prepared a variety of the local dishes for you to sample. May I accompany you to the dining hall?"

Actually Ulrich just wanted to wash off the stink of the road and fall asleep in a proper bed again. But he would make time for Adalhard and so he followed him, leaving Konrad to sort out the rest of the cavalry. As the pair approached the palace's dining hall, the rich aroma of the cooked meat did indeed smell inviting. Only servants occupied the dining hall which was large enough for a banquet, making the room feel rather cold and empty. Ulrich seated himself, waved away the servants who would attend him, and cut a few slices of meat for himself.

After a few mouthfuls he realized Adalhard wasn't eating. He was just sitting there, a worried crease along his brow.

"I sense something's bothering you," Ulrich prompted.

"Ulrich, brother, I know you'll be off again soon, fighting in this war against Skåne. I don't want to be left behind in this purgatory. I want to be on the front lines with you and our Swabian men, fighting for the honour of our family."

Ulrich smiled, remembering how in his youth he had hounded his father for the right to take to the battlefield - how he too had longed for glory. But he had since seen the ugly side of warfare and would spare Adalhard from that as long as he could.

Adalhard continued, "I've been training... and studying as well. I've been translating Basta's work Il maestro di campo generale which is a thorough treatise on practical warfare and the use of firearm-equipped troops in battle."

Ulrich savoured the tender meat as Adalhard persisted in justifying why he should by fighting. Eventually Ulrich came to the realization that Adalhard would not be denied. "I'll give you command of the Northern Army, but just remember that General Konrad has a dozen years of real battlefield experience over you and you are to follow his directions at all times."



The war was actually going well. The Scanian army had been crushed in battles to the south and Swabia's alliance now held a clear numerical superiority.



But if they were going to win this war, they had to occupy Skåne's territory in the Baltic lands. "Take the army east, ensure Skåne are unable to rebuild their forces and then occupy their capital. Be cautious - Skåne's army may have been destroyed but winter approaches and the cold can kill as easily as a Scanian arquebus."



April 1511

Ulrich calmly surveyed the Lübeck city walls that lay across the river Trave. Another boom of cannon fire resounded from his right and shortly thereafter a handful of cannonballs struck the battered walls once again. It hardly mattered though, for the cannons were really just providing cover for the advancing armies led by his brother, Adalhard, and his favourite general, Konrad Michael. Even as another round of cannon fire erupted, the men were trying to cross the Trave on impromptu pontoon bridges while under fire from hundreds of arquebuses.

It had been months since Ulrich had last visited this siege. He recalled how Adalhard had led his Swabian army alongside allied companies from Bohemia and Cologne to victory in the field, allowing their army to besiege Lübeck. He was both proud of his little brother for winning a difficult battle, and also fearful that he'd be risking his life in an encounter that could have easily been lost.



That had been 18 months ago and they'd never managed to block all avenues of resupply to the city. Fast supply ships and boats protected by Holstein's navy were often able to slip up the Trave into Lübeck and only a few were sunk by Swabia's cannons. Realistically there was no way they were going to be able to starve out the city's defenders.

But this city had to be taken. All their intelligence reports indicated that Valdemar von Württemberg, presumptive Duke of Skåne, was holed up in the city's castle. And so month after month they had been bombarding the city's and castle's walls with their cannons. Multiple assaults across the Trave had already been attempted this year and all had been repulsed.

And so finally he'd headed north to take command of this siege personally. With news of Ulrich's imminent arrival it seemed that Adalhard and Konrad had made the decision to make one last attempt at taking the city. And as far as Ulrich could tell from his vantage point, it looked like they were actually succeeding. As he watched he saw multiple companies making it across the river and through breaches in the city walls. He couldn't tell how the fighting was going in the city, but he could do little but wait and silently pray for his brother's safety.

As the sun reached its zenith, Ulrich's brow perspired from the unseasonal spring heat. He could see the smoke from a number of fires within the city. Then the sound of gunfire suddenly stopped and only the screams of the dying carried across the river.

A few minutes later a group of Bohemian soldiers approached, a dozen well-dressed, mostly elderly, prisoners in tow.

"Lord von Württemberg," the group's officer said as they reached Ulrich, "The Lübeck council here has surrendered their city to us."



Ulrich addressed the prisoners, "Mayors of Lübeck, go now to your Holstein masters and deliver them this message: 'We now hold all your jewels of the Baltic, and with more of your enemies already in your lands looking to take advantage of your weakness, let us end this conflict between us. In exchange for a reasonable indemnity, we will return to you all these cities except Rostock and its surrounds which shall serve as an independent buffer between our lands.'"

As Ulrich finished, the men from Lübeck nodded in acknowledgement. They knew they were getting off pretty lightly. Even though their city was burning and no doubt looted as well, they still had their life and liberty.



"Now where is Valdemar?" demanded Ulrich. "We know he was in the city."

One of the prisoners was brought forward, his youth in stark contrast to the age of the other prisoners. Although his clothes were fine and his bearing noble, he had a weary and resigned look.

Ulrich addressed Valdemar, "Cousin, your opposition to my rightful rule over the Scanian lands is at an end. But you are family and I would not have you needlessly suffer. You will accompany me back to Stuttgart where you will be kept in luxury, though not free to forment rebellion."



Ulrich began to give instructions to his manservant to prepare for their departure to Stuttgart, then turned back to the Bohemian officer and asked, "What of my brother, Adalhard, and my general, Konrad? Why are they not here enjoying this victory with us?"

"I'm sorry, Lord von Württemberg. Your brother took a wound in battle - though fear not, it was merely a slice to his shoulder and he's being attended to within the Lübeck castle by my own excellent physician. Konrad Michael, on the other hand, though he was a commoner, was a truly brave man. He led the charge through the breach nearest the Holstein Gate and fell to arquebus fire."

Ulrich cursed. Though the profession of soldier was inherently dangerous, he had really liked Konrad and keenly felt the loss - another man he was close to felled by war. He dismissed the Bohemians, mounted his horse and started to gallop towards the burning city, towards his brother. He would not let them all see the anguish he felt. He mouthed a prayer for Konrad and swore Swabia would see no more wars while he lived.

 
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theosZA

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Dietrich Bastel, Swabian Councillor


January 1518

Dietrich was putting the last flourishes of charcoal to canvas, completing the sketch that was to be the basis for the duke's portrait. It was a rare honour to be commissioned to paint the duke, especially here in Duke Ulrich's bedchamber. But Ulrich was especially fond of Dietrich and, since elevating him to a position on his council nearly seven years ago, he had trusted no other to capture him in oils. Dietrich liked to think that this was due to his skill as an artist, having mastered the style of the Flemish school, rather than because of the physical intimacy he shared with Ulrich.



Ulrich was seated in an elaborately carved, though comfortable, chair as he no longer had the strength to stand for the extended periods of time a portrait painting would take. A wasting illness had descended upon Ulrich suddenly six months ago and none of a dozen physician had been able to cure him. At best they'd been able to provide remedies to make him feel better, but day by day the duke looked like he was approaching ever closer to death.

Ulrich rarely left his own bed these days, but today he'd roused himself and summoned Dietrich for this painting. It was a challenge for Dietrich. He couldn't bear to see Ulrich looking like this - thin, drawn and haggard - and so his sketch more resembled the man Dietrich remembered rather than the man seated in front of him.

The sketch did capture one important detail - the book the duke was reading, <i>De immortalitate animae</i>, a philosophical treatise out of Italy printed on the new Stuttgart printing press. That Ulrich preferred to be depicted with a book rather than in the martial poses favoured by other German princes truly did match his character.



Perhaps this is why Dietrich respected Ulrich so much. Here was a man who had led armies, won battles and taken down enemy fortresses, but having seen the human toll, chose peace instead. Now his soldiers were put to work building up rather than tearing down.



For nearly seven years the Duchy of Swabia had been at peace. The loans that Ulrich's father, Konrad, had taken to finance his wars had finally been paid off and the Duchy prospered.



Dietrich saw that Ulrich was flagging, his eyes no longer focused on the printed pages before him. While Dietrich was just sketching he didn't need silence to aid his concentration, and he suspected the duke needed some conversation to divert him.

"Your cousin asked after you this morning," Dietrich said, snapping Ulrich to attention.

"Valdemar?" Ulrich responded, confusion crossing his face. "What cause have you to see him?"

"Have no fear, Ulrich. I know you used to visit his quarters regularly and since you've been unwell I've been checking up on him in your stead. He really is genuinely concerned for your wellbeing."

"I was sure he hated me for keeping him sequestered all these years. I'm sure I would if he had captured me during the Scanian war."

Dietrich chuckled. "Well, you and Valdemar share the same blood and are more alike than you know. Since the war he has no desire to returning to rule over Skåne and seems content to live out a life of comfort here in Stuttgart."



Dietrich sketched Ulrich's hands resting on the pages of the open book. "So what do those Italian scholars there have to say about the soul?" he asked Ulrich.

The two rarely talked about matters of faith. Dietrich himself had little time for the Church and, while dutiful, Ulrich had seemed more concerned with worldly matters. Recently though, perhaps with the onset of his illness, Ulrich had been spending more time reading, learning and questioning Church doctrine. The Norwegian heresy had even spread across the Baltic into the Brandenburg territory, and Ulrich had responded with only curiosity and amusement.



"Oh," Ulrich responded. "Surprisingly it subtly attacks some of the Church's most dearly-held tenets. I think the fact that this book could be written shows that the Pope's influence over the Italian lands is waning. Even my brother, Adalhard, has sent word of religious troubles in his wife's family's lands. It seems the teachings of Andrija are spreading west and being embraced by the common people."



"I've heard that the people of Munich have also turned from the Pope."

"Ah yes," said Ulrich. "They call themselves Augustinians for they follow the writings of the revered Saint Augustine of Hippo. Of course the Church calls them heretics. I must see if I can't obtain a copy of those old texts."



Dietrich started on Ulrich's facial features now, it not being so hard for him to envision the contentment that Ulrich's face used to wear.

"You know their leader, Ludwig Daser, has been executed," Ulrich continued, though his breathing was laboured. "Which of course has only enraged the people there further. I imagine the next few years are going to be an interesting challenge for our Supreme Pontiff."



Dietrich worried about Ulrich's casual disregard for the religious strife that was overtaking Europe.

"I don't think..." - Dietrich's point was interrupted as Ulrich began coughing again, a painful heaving that was bringing up blood and leaving it speckled across the pages of the duke's beloved book. Dietrich watched his friend with concern and when the coughing fit subsided, he stood up and stretched. "Perhaps it is time we took a break."

Ulrich nodded, his throat too sore to speak. Dietrich helped him up out of his chair and into his bed. It probably wasn't right for the ill duke to be out of bed while winter's chill still gripped Stuttgart castle, Dietrich thought. He pulled the blankets over Ulrich, then sat by his bedside watching the poor man. It wasn't long before the exhausted duke was asleep.

Dietrich returned to his easel and the sketch for Ulrich's portrait. His memory of the duke was better than this ghost of a man that had been seated before him. He finished the sketch, knowing that even as Ulrich passed he would be immortalized by Dietrich's oils.

 
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Zamarak500

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Well, the new guy better be up to the task with protestantism coming to split the empire appart.
 

theosZA

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Well this is exactly why I chose the time range for this AAR that I did. I wanted to make sure I included the reformation and religious war. Having played through Adalhard's reign, I can tell you now that things will be happening shortly to strongly push us in a particular religious direction. Hopefully won't be long before the next update.