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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Alfredian

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I have played a lot of the core Paradox games, but CK is still my favourite and reading some of the excellent CK AARs on the forum tempted me to have a go. This AAR is now past its first birthday and has gone past part 25 already.

I was not sure exactly what sort of style it would be at first, but it has turned out to be mostly historybook. This is a history that is written from the side of the Uffason family, but also looking at little at the society that they rule over.

I have not set any overarching victory conditions. 'Success' will be measured against the ambitions of each ruler, and these may contradict each other (e.g. one focuses on the west, the next abandoning this priority to focus the the east).

There is a lot of discussion at the moment about 'cheating'. I have not used cheats to gain any usccess that the Uffasons have had, but will freely admit to intervening to keep the game and the AAR in sync. In particular this has meant altering the odd character who has been born with a completely implausible culture, or with a name that felt wrong (e.g. King Adolf).

Updates are regular, rather than frequent (one/two updates a month), and I am happy to answer any questions you have (e.g. why certain things happened, what is going on outside the realm, etc).
 
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Alfredian

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Prologue

My name is Edward Uffason. The name is something of an anachronism as Uffason became fixed as our family name a long time ago and I am far from being a pure-blood Saxon. Father named me Edward for the last true King of the English. The Confessor was a godly King, but weak. His inability to control the Godwinsons set in motion the events that led to me being born here, rather than on the family’s old estates in Berkshire.

My father had a love of history and devoted his life to collating all the materials he could find about our family – journals, ledgers, charters…. His private rooms were a monument to our past. However, in looking back in time he didn’t consider his present and never even started the history of our family that he thought would be his life’s crowning achievement. So it is to you, father, that I dedicate these poor scribbles that they might offer a record of the Uffasons’ exile in the east.

Part 1 - Within sight of the White Horse
Part 2 – A meeting in Savernake Forest
Part 3 - A Sword for Hire
Part 4 – The Merchant of Venice
Part 5 - Lessons with the Empress
Part 6 - Hastings
Part 7 – A hearth and a wife
Part 8 - The Earldom of Epirus - Society
Part 9 – Darkness and decline (1067 to 1071)
Part 10 – If not East then where? (1072 to 1083)
Part 11 – A favour for Domenico, a feud with Vukan (1083 to 1087)
Part 12 – The last Doukid Emperor, or Three Peaces (1088 to 1093)
Part 13 – Life under the Muslim yoke (1094 to 1101)
Part 14 – What to do with freedom? (1102 to 1108)
Part 15 – The Council of Michaelmas 1108
Part 16 - The Council of Christmas 1108
Part 17 – Aethelwulf – Consul and Prince (1109 to 1115)
Part 18 – Aethelwulf – Consul and King (1116 to 1123)
Part 19 – A fight for survival (1123)
Part 20 - The Mayor and the Clerk
Part 21 – A fight for survival – King Leofric (1124)
Part 22 – Aldwulfson’s peerage (1124)
Part 23 – King Leofric and the Queen of the Adriatic (1124 to 1132)
Part 24 – Duty is a hard taskmaster
Part 25 – Father of the Republic
Part 26 – The Republic in 1162
Part 27 – King Slavek the Proud
Part 28 – Slavek’s search for recognition

Heads of the Uffason family
 
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Alfredian

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Part 1 - Within sight of the White Horse

You could say that our family’s history in the east starts when Cerdic Uffason stepped off a Venetian merchant ship at Constantinople. However Cerdic was not a Greek and until he was 18 had no likelihood of ever venturing this far from home.

Cerdic had been born in 1045 on the family’s estate on the edge of the Berkshire Downs, right on the northern edge of the old Kingdom of Wessex. This had been frontier-land once, contested between the kings of Wessex and Mercia. By Cerdic’s time it had grown soft and prosperous, nestled safely in the centre of the unified Kingdom of England. Our family were thegns. Maybe not high nobility, but a cut above the free men of the county and able to bring our own huscarls if the King called. Our estates started in Berkshire, looking over the White Horse, and spread down to the upper reaches of the river Kennet.



The family had long been loyal to the Kings of Wessex and their participation in Alfred the Great’s campaigns to drive back the Danes were a source of pride, despite the fact that these events were almost 200 years old by the time Cerdic left England. They weren’t forgotten as they were endlessly talked over and sung about during the long dark nights of winter. When Canute invaded and tried to seize the throne, Cerdic’s grandfather (Aethelwulf Eadgarson) marched with King Edmund to stop him. Edmund was no Alfred the Great and his failure left England with a Danish King. Aethelwulf made his peace with the new King (Canute) and went back to brood on his estates.

It was in this brooding household that Cerdic’s father (Uffa Aethelwulfson) was born. This would have been around 1020, but the exact date is unclear.

Cerdic was the first literate member of his family and our written records start in 1067 with his journal. He only learned this novel skill after coming to Greece. He eventually learnt to write barely legible Greek, but never Latin or English.

Uffa never rose up against the Danish Kings, but his relationship with them and the ‘new men’ (anglo-danes & English) who supported them was always hostile.

Uffa greeted the failure of Canute’s dynasty and the return of the house of Wessex (in the person of King Edward the Confessor) with delight. Edward returned in 1042 and Cerdic was born in 1045. Uffa named him after the founder of the house of Wessex as a tribute to the rebirth of the dynasty. It should come as no surprise that King Edward became a disappointment to Uffa. Not only did his chaste ways seem to preclude the production of an heir, but he proceeded to hand greater wealth and power to those ’new-men’ who had served Canute.

The appointment of Godwin and then Harold Godwinson as Earls of Wessex broke Uffa’s heart as the crowning of Canute had broken Aethelwulf’s. As the family’s land lay within the Earldom of Wessex it also started an escalating cycle of conflict – verbal, legal and physical – between the family and the Godwinsons. This came to a head when Cerdic turned 18.
 

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Interesting so far :) I will keep my eyes on this one. Good luck!
 

Alfredian

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Alfredian

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Part 2 – A meeting in Savernake Forest

In 1045 Harold Godwinson was Earl of Wessex and the richest man in England. Like his father he was accustomed to getting hold of the estates he wanted, whether they be owned by families like ours or even King Edward himself. Cerdic’s father (Uffa) had inherited a small estate on the edge of Savernake Forest (pronounced Savern-ack). Earl Harold claimed the estate for himself, but Uffa’s pride would not let him give way until the King had ruled on the matter.


King Edward wanted to be just, but (as ever) he bowed to the power of the Godwinsons and ruled in favour of Earl Harold. When Earl Harold’s Steward first went to assess the state of his new property he took two huscarls for company, but expected an uneventful trip. This would have been the case had Cerdic not been in Savernake to visit a neighbour’s wife (which he always claimed was completely above board, despite the husband being away).

Cerdic refused to accept the Steward’s ‘authority’ and ordered him out of the Forest. Insults were traded between Cerdic and the two Godwinson huscarls until blades were drawn and blood soaked into the forest floor. None of this belonged to Cerdic, who found himself standing over the bodies of two dead men, with the Earl’s Steward as a witness against him.

With hindsight it might have been better to kill the Steward and blame the whole thing on outlaws. However, the huscarls were the first men Cerdic had killed and when faced with the defenceless Steward he found it was easier to kill in a rage than in cold blood.

He fled for home where he found his father Uffa unconcerned by events. “I’ll pay wergeld for the dead huscarls. You take yourself off out of the Earl’s reach for a while and it will all blow over. Even Godwin and his spawn Harold have done a year or two of exile”. Cerdic left home dressed discreetly, but carrying the arms and armour needed to earn a living as a hired man in a foreign court. He rode to Abingdon and took passage on the next boat down the Thames to London.


Cerdic had been to London before, for his sister’s wedding. His brother-in-law (Swithelm) was heir to a well established London merchant family. While Cerdic had grown up in sleepy Berkshire listening to tales from 200 years before, Swithelm had grown up in a busy merchant community whose interests stretched as far as Russia and Italy. His advice was simple:

“Head for Flanders. Old Count Baldwin always has need of good men and it will be easy enough to come back when I give you word. There is a ship sailing this afternoon, so you can be gone before anyone notices you are here. I will arrange everything.” So without even seeing his sister, Cerdic found himself back on the water and bound for Flanders.
 

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Very interesting so far, getting a good sense of character for Cerdic. :)
 

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Very interesting so far, getting a good sense of character for Cerdic.
Thank you for the comment. It has been quite interesting as I started the gameplay with him a more experienced man and then have had to go back and see how he got there from being a fairly naive provincial Englishman.
 

Alfredian

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Part 3 - A Sword for Hire

Cerdic had grown up around the couple of huscarls that served his father. They had taught him to use a sword, handaxe or battleaxe, as well as introducing him to strong drink and the songs that were not sung at feasts with ladies present. Cerdic therefore thought he knew all about life as a huscarl – a sword for hire.

What swiftly became apparent was that serving Count Baldwin was not like being a huscarl for his father. There was none of the riding out with your lord, drawing the admiring (or fearful) glances of the peasantry. All there was the opportunity to do was train, gamble, drink or stand seemingly pointless guard duty. He was bored.

While eating and drinking at the Count’s expense should have been a cheap way to live, Cerdic swiftly found his small hoard of silver being depleted. What he needed was something that would be more interesting than being a peacetime soldier in Flanders, and considerably more financially rewarding.

The solution came to him while drinking (as so many good ideas do). He overheard one of the other huscarls (a northman), telling of Harald Hardrada, King of the Norwegians. Harald had served as a huscarl for the Emperor of the Greeks and made a fortune so large it had helped him become King when he returned. While retaining the suspicion of northmen that was the hallmark of his family, Cerdic couldn’t help thinking that this Norwegian King had trod a bright path and one he would like to follow. The grizzled northman told him that within the great city of the Greeks the Emperor maintained an entire guard of northmen called the Varangians. These men were Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Rus, etc, but Englishmen had served before, so why shouldn’t he. Cerdic started to plan.

The question was really how to get there. Most northmen got there by sailing down through the rivers of Russia. Being stranded in the middle of Russia on a boat full of northmen did not appeal to Cerdic, so he searched for another way.

In this he was well served by the letter of introduction his brother-in-law Swithelm had given him. This asked those merchants who traded regularly with Swithelm’s family to provide Cerdic with aid, should he require it. The letter got him a meeting with a prominent Flanders merchant and a lesson on how trade flowed through Europe.



The broadness of these trade routes astounded Cerdic. He had an awareness that the better products from their estate had gone off to London, and that some luxuries flowed back from London up the Thames, but the distances the merchant talked of were outside his previous imagination. The merchant explained that Cerdic could use these trade routes, as merchants often needed guards.

So it was that a few days later Cerdic found himself once more on the road as a sword for hire in the service of Domenico Corregio, a merchant from Venice.
 

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Will he go Orthodox? That'd be cool- Orthodox Saxon in the ME. If Cerdic becomes important, have him become Pharoah.
 

Alfredian

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Will he go Orthodox? That'd be cool- Orthodox Saxon in the ME.
Its not impossible. We will see quite soon. Cerdic has certainly become more open-minded after being forced to live overseas.
 

Alfredian

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Part 4 – The Merchant of Venice

Domenico Corregio had been born into a family of merchants in Venice in 1014. His family had been relatively wealthy, but nothing like as rich as they were in 1065 after 30 years of Domenico directing their business interests. In fact, you might ask why a man of Domenico’s wealth and importance would be as far from home as Flanders haggling over bales of cloth of a grade that he would never deign to wear at home.

In public, Domenico said these expeditions were done to maintain business contacts and to keep an eye on the younger (and poorer) men who worked for him. This was a valid reason and it was true that Domenico’s eye for detail had helped him make a profit where others had turned a loss. However, it was not the whole truth.

In truth Domenico was bored by his own success. Bored by his palace, his fine clothes, the chatter of his wife and mistress, and the demands of his children. When out on the road he was allowed to be the younger, hungrier man he still felt himself to be inside, not the older, dignified patriarch he must play in Venice.

It was partly this search for novelty that persuaded him to hire Cerdic Uffason as a guard for the journey back to Venice. Domenico could look after himself (and made sure his employees could too), but a barbarian companion might be interesting. Interesting as well to see the startled look on other merchants’ faces when his pet barbarian accompanied him to meetings.

Domenico spoke enough German to communicate with the English-speaking Cerdic, and set about teaching him the language of Italy. They traded stories on the long journey south. Cerdic told the legends of Wessex and the fight against the northmen. Domenico told of his travels to the far corners of the world – Spain, Egypt, Constantinople. By the time they got to Venice, Domenico trusted his pet barbarian to make himself understood and avoid starting any bloodfeuds. Meanwhile Cerdic was realising that life in Berkshire did not represent the norm for the whole world and that life in Constantinople might be rather more complicated than he had expected.

Cerdic caused a stir when he arrived in the Corregio household and stream of curious neighbours found an excuse to visit. All this amused Domenico greatly. What did not amuse him was the interest his daughter Adelasia was taking in Cerdic.


Domenico had played the novelty card in his seduction of women on his travels. He had played it as the novelty a sophisticated Venetian holds for small-town girl in the north. It had not occurred to him that Cerdic might be able to use novelty to impress in civilised places by playing the noble savage.

Although taken off guard by Adelasia’s newfound infatuation Domenico responded quickly. No daughter of his was going to get into trouble with a penniless barbarian, no matter how much Domenico liked him personally. He made arrangements for Cerdic to sail forthwith on the next boat due for Constantinople. Cerdic left with a fat purse of gold from Domenico and the honour of Adelasia Corregio was left intact.
 
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Alfredian

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Part 5 - Lessons with the Empress

Constantinople was the greatest city in Christendom. Its grandeur was as far beyond the cities of Italy as they were beyond London and Winchester. Its population was vast beyond reckoning, but probably contained more people than the whole of Wessex.

Its buildings too were unmatched in the rest of Christendom. From the piety of the Patriarch’s Hagia Sophia cathedral, to the altogether different worship of the factions in the Hippodrome, every taste was catered for. It sat where Europe meets Asia, and where the trade routes of the Mediterranean meet those of Russia and the north. Were its residents wrong to regard it as the true centre of civilisation?


The Pope might assert the primacy of Rome, but the residents of Constantinople knew that Rome was just a decayed remnant of what it had been. A place where livestock grazed on the ruins of the forum. Yet Constantinople still stood, greater than ever Rome had been. A bulwark against the dark tide of barbarism that had overwhelmed the Western Empire 600 years before and the second wave that had claimed much of the east 300 years ago. A second Rome that had never fallen to the barbarians and surely never could.


Yet the Eastern Empire was built on a fundamental contradiction. The people knew themselves to be the true heirs of Rome and called their state the Roman Empire (or Rhomania), yet they spoke Greek and were perceived by you Franks as the Empire of the Greeks.

The people of the Empire used a mixed bag of Greek and Hellenised Latin terminology as might be expected when an Empire such as this had endured for a thousand years. This causes confusion for you Franks when you try to understand the affairs of the Empire. I believe you even have a silly phrase that something unintelligible is “all Greek to me”.

Therefore I will try to render some key terms in ways that will be more familiar to you. In particular, the Strategoi that lead the local forces of the Empire in the main provinces (Themes) will be called Princes. This is necessary, as you might translate Strategoi as merely a general or marshal, when in fact they were significant nobles in their own right. In power and dignity they are equal to one of your dukes, having frequently turned a de jure appointed position into a de facto hereditary one. The nobles that rule the districts within each Theme will be referred to as Counts (another term you Franks are familiar with).

It should be noted that our family records are even more confusing as we have added a smattering of English terms to this mix over the years as well.


The Emperor Constantine X Doukas was an old man of when Cerdic Uffason arrived in Constantinople. Although a member of one of the most prominent families in the Empire’s military aristocracy, Emperor Constantine was himself more of a scholar and intellectual. His intellect was not applied to the task of rejuvenating the Empire and instead his attention was focused on the luxury that surrounded him.

The conflict of interest between the Themes of the outer Empire and the bureaucracy in Constantinople was not new, but did have an insidious effect on the strength of the Empire during Constantine Xth’s reign. Strong armies in the border Themes kept the Empire safe from barbarians, but gave the Princes an independent powerbase that could be turned on the centre. To the bureaucrats the solution was clear. They must weaken the frontiers to keep themselves safe from their countrymen. The quality of the Greek troops declined, and the reliance on foreign mercenaries increased. Good news for young foreigners like Cerdic, but bad news for the Empire as a whole.


Cerdic found that employment in the Emperor’s Varangian Guard was relatively easy to come by. He looked the part, being big, strong and northern. His native tongue was near enough to that of the Scandinavians that he could converse freely. He could use a two-handed battle-axe (although he preferred a gentleman’s sword) and had spent enough time with huscarls and guards that he was not intimidated by them.

He might have stayed a common guardsman but for the element of refinement that Domenico Corregio had added to his manners. He also rapidly applied himself to learning Greek ways and the Greek tongue. Some of their customs were very strange though, for example using a strange pronged cutlery instrument for spiking food when any normal Englishman could manage with his knife and spoon.


Empress Eudokia was the niece of Patriarch Michael of Constantinople. Despite having had seven children with Constantine X, she was not overly enamoured of him and was eager to expand her own power at the expense of his. There are three stories over how she came to befriend Cerdic Uffason. Firstly, that she had a romantic interest in him (which he always denied, but his sons believed). Secondly, that she wanted to expand her influence within the Varangian guard (which is plausible, but was Cerdic really influential enough for this to have been of value?). Thirdly (and this was the story Cerdic always gave) was that she was educating him in theology. Cerdic did indeed convert to following the Orthodox rite during this period (later telling his sons that he couldn’t understand Latin priests, so it was no loss to swap to not understanding Greek ones). However, questions could be asked about whether this religious instruction had to be conducted alone in the Empress’ chambers, or on rides out into the Thracian countryside.


Whatever the truth of the matter, Emperor Constantine felt it was necessary to permanently remove Cerdic from the scene.
 

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A Saxon in the Middle East - that has to make a good story! ;) I'll definitely be following this.

Dallying with the Empress is bound to get a young, manly, bearded warrior into trouble. But with a martial score of 15, Cerdic could be a candidate for the throne himself, if only he could get hold of some land.
 

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just stumbled on this (been lax in my search for new reading recently). Really nice start and character development. Loved this bit:

The solution came to him while drinking (as so many good ideas do)
... though they ain't always such good ideas the day after?
 

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AllmyJames and loki100: Thank you both for reading. I enjoy both of your writing and your comments are much appreciated.

I actually had to restart the game after about ten years gameplay, as it had got a bit close too close to a well-known Saxon in the Middle East AAR. The geography had to change, but the starting characters didn't.
 

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Part 6 - Hastings

What can be said of Harold Godwinson’s defeat at Hastings that has not already been said? On the 14th October 1066 the sandy stream became a lake of blood and the flower of the English perished.


It is often portrayed as an apocalypse for the English, but this is not quite true. The new Norman barons and knights came as armed foreigners and imposed themselves on the landscape with castles and churches, but within a couple of generations were damning the foreigners from the French side of the Channel.

However, the battle marked the death of the class of English thegns into which Cerdic had been born. Those who were not slain were cast from their land and forced to make a living in unfamiliar ways or distant lands. Many of the families at our court today trace their ancestry to the exodus that followed William the Bastard’s victory.

Cerdic’s father (Uffa Aethelwulfson) was known to be no friend of Harold Godwinson. They had argued over land and Uffa had made no secret of his desire to see King Edward followed on the throne by Eadgar the Atheling. However, Uffa would even rather see a Godwinson on the throne than a return to foreign rule. When news that the King of the Norwegians had launched an invasion Uffa started raising the men of Berkshire to fight for the new King Harold.

Whether you like or loath Harold Godwinson, you have to accept that he could be a competent war leader. His campaign against the Norwegians (and his own brother Tostig) was swift and effective, ending in the battle of Stamford Bridge. Uffa and his men saw none of this, as the campaign was over by the time they were ready to move. However they were ready to join the King when he came south to face William the Bastard and his Norman land-pirates.

On the hill the victors chose to call Senlac, Uffa stood, and died, for a King he didn’t care for. His younger son died there with him, so with Cerdic in exile, all that was left of the family in England was his widow and his daughter. One in a hall which had been emptied of its menfolk and would soon be stolen by the land-pirates. The other safe behind the walls of the City of London and safer in the knowledge that even a conqueror cannot do without merchants like her husband.

If you visit the Hill today you cannot see the crows. They picked over all we had lost, just as the Normans did. All you see is the Abbey King William built to try and wash away all the English blood that stained his soul and must surely damn him forever.

 

phargle

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Wonderful & fun. I just started playing CK:DV last night after not playing for ages, and your AAR makes me want to restart as an exile far from home. I did something similar ages ago with CK and the Polish dynasty, but succeeded too well too fast, and ended up giving up the AAR. Your AAR makes it look fun enough that I think I shall do it again.

I also dig your commentary on Cerdic's conversion. Very droll.
 

AllmyJames

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So Cerdic is now truly alone? With only the incomprehensible Greek priests and scheming empress for company?

I very much like the tone of this story - a good mix of history and wit.