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Introduction: who was Widukind?


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Oct 22, 2014
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Introduction: who was Widukind?

The root of the feudal system in almost the entirety of Central and Western Europe can be traced back to one man. And whilst that man did not found his dynasty, nor conquer his own realm (most of it was inherited from his father), he was the most influential of his dynasty, this man is of course Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, after whom his dynasty would be eventually named. But this isn’t about Charlemagne. It is just interesting to consider that the founder of feudalism would eventually see this system be used by the descendant of what might have been his greatest rival, Widukind.


Charlemagne, King of the Franks, Emperor, and arguably founder of the Holy Roman Empire

Widukind, at the beginning of his reign, did not know that he would be the last of his kind, the last independent ruler of the stem duchy of Saxony. For most of his reign, he lead the Saxons in their campaign against the Franks, under leadership of Charlemagne. Whilst there were successes, once Charlemagne was done in Spain, he would lead the campaign against the pagans who raided and looted his lands.


Widukind, last independent Duke of Saxony, christened on Christmas Eve 785

He was first mentioned in the history books in 777, as the only Saxon noble to not appear at Charlemagne’s court after he made an edict in an effort to subjugate the Saxons, this being in reaction to the raids that happened whilst the campaign in the Iberian peninsula was going on. Whilst the other nobles were in Paderborn, summoned there by Charlemagne in an effort to have them subjugate themselves to the him, Widukind himself was at the court of the King of Denmark, a fellow pagan ruler. He would return to Saxony in 782, leading the other nobles in their rebellion. Through the years he would lead the Saxons in their ever more futile struggle.

Legend goes that whilst traveling over the Wiehens Mountains, waiting from a sign from god, his horse put its hoof down, splitting the rock and letting a spring appear from the rocks. He recognized this sign from God and in response he traveled to the army of Charlemagne. Still afraid, he witnessed the mass from afar disguised as a beggar, where he saw the priest handing out a child to the people present. When he came closer, he was recognized by a birth defect to one of his fingers. He was captured and admitted to seeing the child, in which Charlemagne saw that God had granted Widukind a vision of Christ. At Christmas of that year, Widukind was baptized and became a vassal of Charlemagne.

Widukind remained as Duke of Saxony, only dying in 807 whilst battling the Suebi, this time fighting for Charlemagne as one of his loyal vassals. It is also know that he gained another title as vassal of Charlemagne, who, by the year 800, had himself be crowned Emperor. This was the little known County of Hamaland. The heir of Widukind for Saxony is known, his son Wigbert, who also became Count of Hamaland. And after Wigbert, it is unknown who occupied the position, the next duke only appears in the records in 850.


Approximation of the County of Hamaland

It is the County of Hamaland which is interesting for the purposes of this history. This county encompassed an area roughly corresponding with the later Duchy of Gelre and County of Zutphen from the beginning of Roderlo rule. Modern historians believe that Hamaland was broken up into two counties, the lands east of the IJssel, the County of Zutphen, and roughly the remnant, what would be known as the County of Gelre, after it was acquired by the Gelre dynasty from Gelder.

Now that we know of Widukind and his connection to Gelre, we can speak of it in the 14th century together with the House of Roderlo.


Gelre and Zutphen around the start of Roderlo rule
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Good luck! :)
Ever since CKII was free on Steam, I have played the game for a bit and the idea of a megacampaign came rolling in, playing as a custom dynasty from my native Gelderland. Now, since corona has arrived in the Netherlands I have been "blessed" with a fair bit of spare time, allowing me to finish the game and AAR I had laying around for a few months already. I'll post it over the course of the coming weeks, with the conversion to EU4 coming only after the Emperor update has been released. Some technical details:

DLC's: Conclave, Way of Life, Sons of Abraham, The Sword of Islam
Starting date: 1337
Starting character: Johannes Roderlo
Starting titles: Duke of Gelre, County of Gelre, City of Zutphen
Custom mod: same name as the AAR, makes Friesland and Ostfriesland republican vassals under the Emperor instead of the Bishop of Utrecht
Prologue: the rise of the House Roderlo
Prologue: the rise of the House Roderlo

The exact origin of the Roderlo’s isn’t known. The first mention of their ancestral castle comes from 1320, only 16 years before they would come to possess the Duchy of Gelre. At the time, the father of Johannes “IJzervreter”, Hendrik, was the lord of Castle Roderlo/Reurlo (both names are correct). It was not a very impressive castle, to this day it remains very small, just like the city of Reurlo that came into existence nearby, something strange for what can be considered one of the great dynasties of Europe.​


Castle Roderlo/Reurlo, to this very day it houses members of the House Roderlo

The first mention of the castle immediately begins the rise to power of the Roderlo’s. In 1320, Hendrik married the eldest daughter of count Reinoud II. At the time, Reinoud was a young man, in his late twenties, and married to Elanor of England, eldest daughter of Edward III, King of England. An interesting fact is that his mother was Margareta of Dampierre, daughter of the famous count Gwijde of Dampierre of Flanders, the man who would lead Flanders in revolt against the Kings of France, and to this day a regional hero. (Through this relationship the Roderlo’s would later base their claim on the County of Flanders after the Dampierre’s lost the county.) The marriage of his eldest daughter to a local noble was mainly to encourage better relations with the nobles of the County of Zutphen. At the time, the county was in a strong personal union with Gelre, but it remained the most uncontrolled part of his realm. It was the Lordship of Borculo that oftentimes defied the wishes of the counts. At the time of his marriage, he did not have a male heir, his younger brother had passed away in 1315 for reasons unknown. But, as he was young, it was assumed that he would eventually have a male heir. And he did, in 1333, his son Reinoud was born.


Reinoud II, the last count of the House of Gelre

For the moment we will look at Hendrik and his wife Margareta. It seemed that she liked to be away from the “hectic” court in Nijmegen. She enjoyed walking through the forests with Hendrik. And with there not being many obligations for Hendrik, he actually took a liking to his wife. For the birth of their first child, which was within a year of their marriage, they had a priest come over from the Bishopric of Utrecht, and from the texts he wrote whilst in Reurlo, it seems that Hendrik and Margareta had actually fallen in love, a rarity in a world where noble marriages just existed as political tools to make alliances and expand one’s domain. It sadly, wasn’t long to last. 3 years later, when giving birth to their second child, a girl, both Margareta and the girl passed away. Hendrik, out of faithfulness to his wife, decided not to marry again.

Back in Nijmegen, over the years, Reinoud and his wife got more children. But it took until their 5th child that a male heir was born, also named Reinoud, named after his father, just like his father was. 2 years later, in 1330, a second son was born, named Eduard, after his grandfather. And this is the situation that remained for 7 years. Reinoud was father of 6 children.

1336 would be a faithful year for Reinoud. In May, he announced a hunt for all the nobles of his realm in the forests of the Veluwe. We know for certain Hendrik attended this hunt. We don’t know if the young Johannes attended this hunt. But what we do know is that both of Reinoud’s sons attended the hunt, probably because of a lot of begging on the part of the eldest. And whilst we do not know what exactly happened, sources state a differing reasons, what we do know is that both of Reinouds sons died during the hunt. Reinoud, devastated by this loss, and feeling guilty because he permitted them to join him on the hunt, retreated to his chambers. When days later an aide built up the courage to enter his chamber, he found him dead, having committed suicide.

What began was a scramble by multiple nobles to claim the vacant throne of Gelre and Zutphen. Internally, the powerfull Bronckhorst and Heeckeren families put forward their candidates, both with connections to the old Gelre dynasty. From across the border, the Dukes of Cleves put forward a claim on Gelre and Zutphen. It had been the strategic goal of the Counts of Gelre to control the traderoutes from Antwerp to the east. Had Cleves joined into a union with Gelre, this long-term goal would have been completed, and it wasn’t something opposed to the goals of the local nobility. In the east, the Lord of Borculo showed some interest in the Gelrian throne, receiving some support from the Bishop of Munster. Lastly, there was the legitimate pretender of the Gelrian throne, son of the eldest daughter of Reinoud, Johannes Roderlo.


The Lordship of Borculo, for a long time independent from Zutphen, but under heavy influence from the west. The city of Grolle in her centre was under the rule of the counts.

Whilst The Bronckhorsts and Heeckerens fought head to head over influence within Arnhem, Nijmegen and Gelre, to the east, Johannes was making smarter moves. The first one to drop out of the race was the Lord of Borculo. Even if the Bishop of Munster had fully committed to his cause, it would have been unlikely that he would have gained the counties. But this didn’t mean that he was powerless. If he couldn’t gain it himself, he could help a friend. Relations between the Lords of Borculo and the lords of Castle Roderlo had always been friendly. So, the Lord of Borculo threw his lot in with Johannes, and with him came the blessing of the Bishop of Munster. Also, a deal was signed which would, in the case that Johannes gained the titles, that Borculo would officially recognize the authority of the counts, but it would retain a large number of special privileges.

Ironically enough, after securing support from the church, Johannes travelled to the court of Emperor Ludwig IV of the Wittelsbach dynasty. This was at the height of the Investiture Controversy. The Hohenstaufen dynasty had battled a long time in Italy with the Papacy, and at this point in history the Papacy was actually located in Avignon. Ludwig was interested in allies who could help combat the power of the church, even if it meant the increase of the power of the nobility, because “at least I (Ludwig) stand above a noble, only God stands above a Bishop”.

In the Lowlands at the time, there were two powerful bishops. The Bishop of Luik, an office which controlled lands stretching from France to the Rhine, but more importantly, the Bishop of Utrecht, which controlled Utrecht and the surrounding lands (Nedersticht) and the lands between Gelre and Zutphen in the south and the Frisian freedom in the north (Oversticht). It is also the Frisian freedom which is interesting. It is best characterized as a series of farmer republics (Bauerrepubliken/Boerenrepublieken), a collection of small communities ran by farmers, peasants, lower nobility and city-dwellers (in what manner cities existed in Frisia). Generally, the lands north of Gelre and Zutphen were far away from the influence of whatever emperor ruled at the time. It was in this situation that Johannes came with an offer.

Johannes was an ambitious man, and the ambition that showed later in his life is already quite obvious. His offer was simple. Recognize his claim to the counties of Gelre and Zutphen, elevate Gelre and unify the titles (it would become the Duchy of Gelre and County of Zutphen, one title), and grant him overlordship over Oversticht and the Frisian lands. In exchange, he would make himself a loyal subject of the Emperor, supporting his preferred candidate for the Emperorship (the system of Electors was yet to be codified) and sending money and men to the Emperor when he needed it. The elevation to a Duchy was something that was already planned for a longer time, Gelre was quite a power to be reckoned with in the Lowlands, and it would provide a counterbalance to the powerful Dukes of Brabant, who were the heirs of the Duchy of (Lower) Lorraine. It is often said that Johannes’ proposal was too one-sided. After all, the word of a vasal was often worth nothing if breaking it meant that he would gain something. But Johannes was a capable diplomat, and after some discussion about minor details, Ludwig accepted his proposal. Johannes, if he gained the throne, would be elevated to a duke and receive carte blanche to tackle the power of the church and the farmer republics in the Lowlands.

With this, he returned home. And whilst he was gone, the situation in Gelre had deteriorated. The Bronckhorst and Heeckerens had been preparing for war, and it was obvious that if both weren’t stopped, a civil war would break out in the duchy. In this climate, Johannes stepped forward to press his claim. By all intents and purposes, he was the rightful count, and was supported by the Bishop of Munster and the Emperor himself. And the obvious alternative was a civil war between the Bronckhorst and Heeckerens. Those families saw their support melting away in the face of that threat. And thus, Johannes became Johannes I Roderlo, count of Gelre and Zutphen in late November 1336. On Christmas Day, he would be, with blessing of the emperor, be crowned duke by the Bishop of Munster.

Johannes was an ambitious man, those who know the history of the Roderlo’s and of Saxony are well familiar with that. Thus, to consider the position he found himself in on the first day of the ducal throne, we must look to the west and to the northern parts of the HRE. The old Stemduchy of Saxony was long gone. In the east, near the Elbe, laid the last remnants of this Duchy, divided in the late 13th century.

There was a much more powerful family in the northern HRE besides the Ascania’s who held a successor state to the old Stemduchy. This was the Welfs who held the Duchy of Brunswick. The Welf dynasty had actually held the ducal title for a while. It were the Welfs who had oversawn the end of the duchy. In the late 12th century, they refused to support Emperor Barbarossa’s campaigns in Italy, which eventually lead to a revolt against the Emperor and the other nobles of the realm. There had been some success, but in the end, the Welfs lost. The Duchy of Saxony seized to exist. The Welfs did retain their other personal possessions in the now defunct duchy. These would, in 1235, be elevated to a duchy themselves, the Duchy of Brunswick.


The lands of the Duchy of Brunswick, covering most of the old Stemduchy

To the east of Brunswick laid what was, at least in name, the nominal successor to the Stemduchy. The title of “Duke of Saxony” had been granted to the Ascania family after the dissolvement of the duchy. The Ascania’s were in some ways the rivals of the Welfs. Before Henry III would oversee the dissolvement of the duchy, Albert “the Bear” of the Ascania’s ruled the duchy, although this was a disputed status. The ducal title had been rescinded from the Welfs and granted to Albert, but only if he could take control of it, which he obviously couldn’t.

It must also be mentioned that from 1180 onwards we don’t speak of the Ascanian Duchy of Saxony as Saxony anymore. Some historians prefer to name these the Elder and Younger duchy’s. But, with the Roderlo’s later restoring the Duchy propper, this naming is considered confusing. So from 1180 we consider the old stemduchy gone, with the Ascania’s holding the Duchy of Wittemberg, which is the successor to the old stemduchy.


The lands of the Ascania’s, not worthy of the title “Duchy of Saxony”, with half of it outside of the Stemduchy

From the realm of the Ascania’s we travel further east, to a holding of the Wittelsbachs, the Margriavate of Branderburg. Brandenburg was a recent acquisition, only coming into their hands in 1323. But, Wittelsbach rule of Brandenburg was not completely stable. Since the Wittelsbachs were a dynasty based mainly from Bavaria, they were seen as foreigners by the local nobility. It didn’t help that they often cared more about other possessions throughout the Empire. And at the time, the Wittelsbachs held the Imperial title, so a far away, underdeveloped corner of the empire wasn’t of the highest priority. In some ways, the margraviate stood separate from the politics west of the river Elbe, but a few parts of her domain were on the other side of the river.


The Margraviate of Brandenburg, not a power “native” to the old duchy but certainly a player within her old lands

Heading to the north, we reach the city of Lubeck, the city that was to become the centre of the Hanseatic League. In 1337, the League had not officially been founded but merchants from the north of the HRE had already become a major force in the Baltic trade, having long ago overcome their rivals from Visby. We can also trace the rise of this merchant power back the Duchy of Saxony. Henry III, the last duke, had conquered the area and rebuilt the town in 1159. Lubeck’s location made it an ideal spot as an international, or at the least in the Baltic and northern HRE, hub for trade. In 1337, her influence spread from Novgorod in the east to as far as Kales and London in the west.


Extend of the Hanseatic trading network throughout the Baltic and North Sea

It is ,of course, also impossible to talk about the history of the Roderlo’s, and especially impossible to talk about Johannes, without mentioning the claim he made and later pressed.

According to the documents written down at the time, Johannes claimed that Wigbert, Widukind’s son, had two daughters, Wulfhilde and Mathilde. So, upon his death in 827 , the County of Hamaland and Duchy of Saxony reverted back to the Emperor, who at the time was Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne. From 827 to 850, the Duke of Saxony is unknow, with the Frankish noble Liodulf being appointed duke in that year. He is the founding father of the Ottonian Dynasty, the Dukes of Saxony who would eventually become King of Germany and unite the Kingdom of Germany, Kingdom of Lotharingia, Kingdom of Arles and Kingdom of Italy into the Holy Roman Empire.

After the death of Wigbert, we do know that the Saxon noble Wichmann Billung was made the count of Hamaland. A daughter of his married Duke Liodulf. And a younger son (we do not know, but he had at least 4 sons) married Wulfhilde. From there on, we have some on and off documentation about their descendants. They generally stuck around the Lowlands and Saxony areas. Some joined both the 2nd and Baltic Crusades, but they either died or didn’t have any known descendants.

Through a male line we can trace the blood of Widukind all the way to the late 13th and early 14th centuries. By this time, the name Billung had long fallen out of use, everybody just being referred to as “Of [first name of the father]”. We know that a man named Hendrik sent to the border of the County of Zutphen with the Lordship of Borculo, where he was to construct a castle. And this is of course the father of Johannes.

Now it comes to the validity of this claim. Today, it is widely accepted that the Roderlo’s are indeed descendant from Widukind. But, we must also consider that every noble on the continent can in one way or the other claim to be a descendant of Charlemagne, not to forget that history is written by the victors, and that this might influence the way that certain gaps in the lineage have been judged.

But, even considering this factor, the small gaps in the documentation considered, we can conclude with reasonable certainty that the Roderlo’s are indeed the Heirs of Widukind.
The Prologue hit just the right tones - intriguing yet not overblown.
Very interesting, indeed. :)
Johannes "IJzervreter", part I
The reign of Johannes “IJzervreter” Roderlo, Duke of Gelre: part I

Before we can talk about the Tenth Crusade and Johannes’ role in it, we must speak of the issues surrounding the Declaration of Deventer. Following his return to the court in Nijmegen, news of the duchy being declared, and the dejure territory it contained by Imperial decree, had spread across the region and most importantly to the Bishop of Utrecht and Frisian Lands. It was quickly becoming clear to them that Johannes was looking to conquer their lands. And whilst the Gelrian claim only extended to Oversticht, the loss of that land would soon see an invasion by the Count of Holland, if Johannes hadn’t already made a pact with Holland to split up the territory. And following that, the resources of the expanded duchy would likely overcome any army the decentralized Frisians would be able to field, if internal divisions would be able to be overcome. It is in this context that several prominent Frisian leaders sought contact with the Bishop. They would meet in Deventer.

Deventer laid close to the border with the duchy, so it isn’t a strange place to call such a meeting. At first, both parties considered an alliance to combat the ducal forces, but the issue of a Hollandic invasion (and the Eastern Frisians fearing intervention by a some nearby noble) meant that armed resistance was rejected. But, the position of the Frisians and Sticht was still strong, and could give Johannes a lot of trouble. So, considering their position, they invited him to join them in Deventer.

So, Johannes travelled north and down the IJssel, and when he came to Deventer, he was presented with an offer. The Frisians and the Bishop would accept a vassal relationship with the duke in exchange for respecting the rights and privileges of the bishopric and the free lands. For Johannes it would mean lessened control over these lands, but it would mean that Utrecht would fall in his hands, and that the Hanseatic trade along the river IJssel and Frisian coasts would not be disrupted, something that could immediately be taxed. Not to forget that any men killed during the conflict couldn’t be used during any necessary campaigns he needed to carry out. (Although this would quickly be undone.) Thus, the Declaration was agreed upon, and trough non-violent means, Sticht and the Frisian lands would fall peacefully under his rule.


We do not know what Johannes had planned, but his marriage already indicated that he wanted to go east. He did later in his reign, but when the Pope called for a crusade, whichever plans he had were put on hold.


The Tenth Crusade can primarily be remembered for the lack of any cohesive strategy. There was some strategy involved, but the disorganized arrival of the Crusader armies and disagreements meant that it was lost from the beginning. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before Johannes left, he had two children with Mechthild, a girl Ingeborg, and once he had left for Egypt, a boy who the mother had also christened Johannes. At first, a landing at Sidon was attempted to link up with other crusaders, yet this was deemed too risky because of the presence of Saracen forces. From there, the fleet headed south, where they joined in a series of sieges securing the eastern mouth of the Nile as a base of operations. The events here would be overshadowed by a moment of glory in an otherwise disastrous crusade. Following the siege of Pelusium, Johannes, at that point leading this army, was approached by a delegation which had come from upstream. Copts from the Upper Nile area wished to settle in the city under his protection, and Johannes agreed. To this day, the Christians there have a special place in their heart for the Roderlo dynasty.

Moving from there, Johannes decided to strike at the heart of their goal. The naval presence of the Italian merchant republics allowed constant resupply from over the sea when crossing the Sinai. The Saracens, not suspecting such a radical move, had left much of southern Palestine unguarded. Within 3 weeks, they stood at the walls of Jerusalem. No relieving army was underway, new forces had arrived at Antioch and Alexandria, proving to be an excellent distraction. Having known this via the Genoese, instead of storming the city, a siege began. Well supplied they could easily outlast the garrison.

It was thus that on the 13th of June 1341 that Johannes marched his army into the city, the garrison having surrendered.


The celebratory mood did not last long. The following Battle of Acre left the army decimated, and in the retreat the army split up. Two-thirds of the remaining army left for the safety of the walls of Jerusalem. The other third attempted a risky evacuation by sea. Johannes, having seen his small army decimated by the battle, having borne the main charge of the Saracen cavalry, had been reduced to a fifth of the men they had left for the Holy Land with. His men had suffered enough, they had done their duty, it was time to head home.

Instead of pressing their advantage on the evacuating army, a battle which would have surely meant more death and destruction, they headed south, and resieged Jerusalem. And to their credit, this army lasted. Anticipating the siege, they had gathered whatever supplies they could. At whatever moment they could, they attempted to smuggle supplies in. And at whatever chance they got, they raided the enemy camp. Sadly, their efforts were in vain. On the 20th of March, 1344, after 2 years, 5 months and 3 days of siege, Jerusalem fell back in Mohammedan hands.

Europe became aware of this news, yet it did not retract from Johannes’ new status as a pious and zealous leader. Pope Benedictus XXII invited him to Rome to join him for Christmas 1344. The reason for this invitation was twofold. One the one hand, he wished to congratulate Johannes on his, although shortlived, achievement. The short lived success is said to have had an effect on the crusades that followed the Tenth. On the other, the news of Johannes’ ambitions had also trickled down to Rome, and Benedictus was looking for help. The Bishop of Cologne had been rejecting his payments to the Pope, instead using it to finance his favourite successor to the Imperial throne. Thus, in exchange for the County of Kleef, a vasal of the Bishop, Johannes would remind him of his obligations to the Holy See. He began so in late May of the next year.

The Klevian War, as it would be known later, wasn’t a really special affair. It was made up of a collection of sieges. The only battle was in the beginning. The bishops’ army had made an attempt to advance onto the Betuwe. Instead of a pillaging campaign, she was cut off from Cologne and forced into a corner, battle happening near the city of Gorinchem. After the battle, the only thing the army attempted to do was undo the sieges of the Gelrian army. No surprise than that in late 1347 the Papal demands were enforced.


At this point, we must mention the War of the Regency in Brabant. Duke Hendrik V had become incapable, modern doctors still often doubt about what exact cause, but this had caused a regency in the duchy until his son, the would be Hendrik VI could inherit. Yet, the Count of Holland, Zeeland and Henegouwen, Willem IV intervened. Claiming that since a regency would be disastrous for the Duchy, he would enforce the claim of his wife to the throne. This would mean an eventual unification of these titles, creating a bloc of power close to rivaling the influence of the old Duchy of Lothringia. In late 1348, it seemed as the last bulwarks of the regency’s power had submitted to the rule of Johanna, but there were nobles looking to Johannes as to prevent falling into the hand of Willem IV.
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Tenth Crusade... Some inflation going around there, for sure!
Certainly he is keeping busy. I forgot to mention but nice to see another late-game start
Tenth Crusade... Some inflation going around there, for sure!
Not to give too much away, but I was a bit annoyed that it kicked off, so I decided to just join in for the heck of it. Eventuallly, it might have been the greatest blessing of the game, but that's something for the next chapters.
Certainly he is keeping busy. I forgot to mention but nice to see another late-game start
Kind of surprises me that they aren't done more often. Even though it can get quite wonky (the later part of the campaign will ilustrate this, but luckily I can iron some of the stuff out with the conversion) CKII is a better fit for the later medieval era than the earlier parts of it
Johannes "IJzervreter", part II
The reign of Johannes “IJzervreter” Roderlo, Duke of Gelre: part II

The power in the Lowlands had shifted a lot since the early 14th century. In 1300, the area was made up of small and medium sized feudal holdings, some held in personal union with one another. There were 3 real powers. The Counties of Holland ,Zeeland and Hainout, ruled in personal union. The Duchy of Brabant and Limburg, heir to the Duchy of Lotharingia. And the County of Vlaanderen, a vasal of the King of France but one with many privileges and even holdings on the eastern side of the border. At the time of the War of the Regency, this power dynamic had shifted. Flanders found itself in conflict with the French king, and where they had stood triumphant after the Battle of the Golden Spurs, the Dampierre dynasty had a much harder time maintaining their footing in this conflict. Effectively, they had been removed from the Lowlander power game for some time. In its place had risen the Duchy of Gelre, uniting the land east of the IJssel. And thus, when the War of the Regency was over, it had become clear that this would be reduced to just two powers, with Holland set to rise above her rivals and even become a player in wider Imperial politics. Funny to consider that sometimes, our reality is the one that seemed the most unlikely once.

The House of Brabant was dead, or at least they would not hold their titles again, that seemed certain. But, there was still a choice for the Brabantian nobility. Over the rivers laid not only Holland, a power that had just enforced its monarchy on them in all but name, but also a, although not yet really official, rival of Holland. The news about Hollandic victory was received with worried ears in Nijmegen. It was clear that the unified power this block of power would threaten any ambition Johannes held in heading east. The counts in ‘s Gravenhage had always held ambitions on lands now in their hands. Utrecht had always been a thorn in their sides, and officially, Holland was the County of Frisia, given to the first of the House of Holland after killing the Viking who had forced Charlemagne to give it to him as a fiefdom. Therefore, they had always desired to enforce their will on all of Frisia. A previous invasion had failed in the 13th century, but fighting a two front war was too much for Johannes. Thus, he was an excellent candidate to be invited to take the position of Duke. Not to forget that the deal he had made with the bishop and the Frisians showed that he was willing to respect the privileges of his subjects, something that wouldn’t be certain if the Hollanders came to rule.


The timing of the invasion could be described as perfect. By early 1349, the Hollandic armies had returned home believing that Brabant was secured for duchess Johanna. The military presence in Brabant could no longer been afforded by the count. He was already in the red, even with the spoils that had been gathered from anti-Johanna nobles. Most of the nobles were anti-Johanna nobles, and at times the pro-Johanna nobles had borne the brunt of the casualties in the conflict. Thus, only a small army was able to oppose the march on Brussels. The battle came at ‘s Hertogenbosch, seeing most of this noble army destroyed. The road laid open and by August the duchy was in Johannes’ hands. Whilst Brabant had been secured, the option for diplomacy with Holland was now off the table. But, the combined might of Gelre and Brabant would also mean that a two front war could be survived.

The death of Albrecht III of Brunswick has always been shrouded in mystery. At the end of the banquet of the 9th of June 1351, he drank one last glass of wine. His wife was away at the time, attending to matters at the Imperial court. Albrecht headed upstairs and went to bed. Next morning, he was found in his bed, foam on his mouth, dead. He had been poisoned. Everybody who had access to the wine was questioned, but nobody admitted to anything. Whilst the evidence is not there, it must be considered, especially knowing the results, that Johannes could have given a directive to have Albrecht killed.


The marriage with Mechtild of the House Welf was always a politically calculated move. At the very least it provided the Duke of Brunswick with a reason not to march west and restore the Munsterite claim as feudal overlord of Borculo. It was this arrangement which had kept it semi-independent for so long. An alliance was long talked of, the relations between Johannes and Albrecht III were always cordial at the very least, and perhaps he saw in Johannes an ally for his own designs on Saxony. But, once he had died, his young son Albrecht IV would inherit all the difficulties of the marriage. A young monarch would mean a regency of at least a decade, a mere puppet of the nobles who really would control the duchy. Not to forget that there was quite a rivalry between the nobles of the duchy, and almost as soon as Albrecht was made duke, a faction started to support his younger brother in “his bid for the throne”. Johannes expected an easy victory, but it would be quite a bloody campaign with not as much result as he expected.

The bloody Battle of Essen would see a Brunswicker army stand their ground against an almost twice as large force. It was actually one of the rare cases in which Johannes would command a portion of the troops himself. Whilst having led troops in the field in the Tenth Crusade, he always saw the whole endeavour as a pilgrimage with a military aspect. It would have been unfaithful to not lead fellow Christians in their defence against the Saracens. At home, with a son still too young to rule and seeing the chaos of regencies around him (he also sometimes noted he wouldn’t have gone on Crusade had he seen this kind of chaos earlier) made him decide to not lead forces himself. The Brabantian Campaign was led by multiple trusted nobles from throughout the duchy. Yet, on this occasion he did, showing to us he saw this campaign as vital. And whilst not leading the army itself, he did lead the left flank. Eventually, it was the high morale of his units that allowed them to break the right flank of the Brunswicker army. Whilst not the last battle of the war, Göttingen and Rees would follow, but these were much smaller and the might of the Brunswicker army was already broken at that point. It was also at Essen, leading from horseback and clad in full armour, that Johannes would gain his immortal nickname of IJzervreter, Ironside.


At the same time, the nobles discussed earlier made their move. Albrecht IV was killed, multiple nobles imprisoned and Albrecht’s younger brother Landolf was put on the throne. The new regency immediately sued for peace, backed by Bishop of Munster. Bishop Ludwig, who as things happened to be was a of the House of Brabant, had powerful friends at the Imperial court, and had he wanted to, he could have had the Emperor intervene. But, what would his personal gain have been? His potentially powerful backer allowed him to become the strongest force in the regency of Landolf, becoming sole regent a few years after the peace was concluded. Whilst nominally the duchy would stay united, in all practical cases it would be split and Mechtild and Landolf would become co-rulers (with the regency taking all of Landolfs duty’s upon it). Landolf would rule the western part, the counties of Munster and Padeborn, and the rule of Mechtild would be over Braunschweig, Lüneburg, Verden and, important for later, Bremen. Whilst the deal would never be fully enforced, it would stand for the moment.

Johannes was also able to lead a successful marriage policy. His firstborn daughter, Ingeborg, was married of to Ludwig, son of Margriavate Ludwig of Brandenburg, the “King of Swabia”. (The royal title for Swabia only lasted 2 generations, and was abolished once the son of Ingeborg and Ludwig, Sieghard, became Emperor.) Not only that, but in the machinations at the Imperial court Johannes had been able to make quite good friend in the form of Wenzel IV “the Just” of Bohemia. Together, they both often recalled their time crusading. This friendship would eventually grow into an alliance, and perhaps not a moment to soon.

Count Willem IV of Holland, Zeeland and Henegouwen, long despising Johannes for blocking his attempt at intergrating Brabant into his domain, declared war over the issue of Utrecht. Nominally, Nedersticht fell within the dejure domain of the counts of Holland, but the bishops had long since been able to become politically independent from the masters in ‘s Gravenhage. But now, with a rising star in the east, the possibility of the old Duchy of Lorraine or something akin to it reuniting, and thus posing a threat to the House of Holland, the political independence of Holland was at stake. A power able to unify the rest of the lowlands, and in control over the port of Antwerp, Meuse, Rhine and Scheldt rivers would want to control their mouths. Holland, dominating their mouths and being able to contest the Zuiderzee, would have to fall to such a power. Pre-empting the full political unification of the lowlands would allow Holland a fighting chance. Willem IV dispatched a messenger to declare war over Nedersticht on the 24th of November. A day later, his armies marched onto IJsselstein, to establish a forward supply point there to prepare for a siege of the seat of the bishop. Yet, the baron of IJsselstein, Arend Egmont, was able to act quick, gathered whatever men he could arm and close the gates of the castle. Willem IV tried to storm the castle, but being ill prepared caused him to quite embarrassingly fail. Not realizing that the castle had been filled to the brim with the harvest of September and October, he began a siege.

In the meantime, Willem’s blunders allowed Johannes to call upon his allies and muster his own forces. The army that marched out to face the Hollandic army was over 20.000 strong, outnumbering their opponents almost four to one. On the 26th of April, the dwindling and every weary defenders of IJsselstein saw a rainbow of colours approaching over the horizon. Banners of Gelrian, Frisian, Brunswicker, Bohemian, Brandenburgian and Swabian colours all closing in over the horizon. A massive cheer came out of the castle. Willem, rightfully so, immediately started evacuating, or at least preparing to get into a better position, but it was too late. The ensuing battle was more of a slaughter than anything else. Over half of the Hollandic forces weren’t able to escape and were either killed or taken prisoner. The reason for pursuing was simple, Holland is not the kind of terrain to make such moves in with a army of 20.000 strong. Willem IV still held hope for the future, surely, his county could hold out with its vast maze of lakes, rivers and channels? He forgot one thing, the Gelrian coalition had access to the knowledge of the Utrechters and the pirates of Frisia. The army, using the waterways themselves, made rapid progress and were able to stand at the gates of ‘s Gravenhage halfway through July whilst being able to keep their troops supplied. Eventually, after one year and one day of warfare, Willem IV gave in. He would rescind his claim to Nedersticht and pay reparations over the damages done to IJsselstein and the surrounding barony.


Johannes is really proving to be the regional supremo
Johannes "IJzervreter", part III
The reign of Johannes “IJzervreter” Roderlo, Duke of Gelre: part II

In the night of November 19th to the 20th, Mechtild Welf, wife of Johannes “IJzervreter” Roderlo, mother of Ingeborg, Johannes and Gheertrude would pass away in her sleep. With her, the title Duke of Brunswick passed on to her eldest son Johannes, now Johannes II of Brunswick. With this, the fragile peace that had existed since 1354 began breaking down. Part of the peace treaty that had been signed back then was a “clean” split of the duchy into two parts. Except, Landolf Welf had never bothered to surrender Breemn to Mechtild. And whilst Mechtild had never pressed the issue, mainly due to the fact that the main force behind her keeping the throne, her husband, was occupied elsewhere. Yet, when she passed and her title passed on to her son, Johannes saw an immediate chance to for once and for all establish dominance over Saxony. His son pressed the Breemn issue, Landolf refused, and war erupted. The Munsterite Campaign is another one of the more dull and boring conflicts of Johannes’ reign. Consisting mostly over diplomatic manoeuvres to court nobles, sieges and very few battles. And perhaps this is the best summarization of the later years of Johannes’ reign. The more boring, tedious work that put together the realm he would leave on his descendants.

In 1371, Johannes’ finally pressed the claim he inherited from Widukind, that of Duke of Saxony. Of course, in this situation, we’re speaking of the claim to the Duchy of Wittenberg. The campaign itself mirrored the Munsterite Campaign very much. But, the difference this time was the risk of conflict with the Brandenburgians/Swabians existed. Yet, Johannes, ever cunning that he was, was able to leverage his marital ties to the king, and come out with a deal. Both the Roderlo’s and Wittelsbachs were interested in consolidating their holdings and bringing smaller ones under their control. Along the Elve river, both parties had unorganized and tied together holdings, together with some independent titles in between. After Johannes had pressed his claim to Wittenberg, he and the Wittelsbachs signed the Treaty of Magdeburg, redrawing the border along the Elve river. The only thing that remained outside of the treaty for now was the region around Stood at the mouth of the Elve, remaining to valuable for the Wittelsbachs to give up at the time.


The new status quo along the Elve from 1373 onwards.

That same year saw the war for the last independent political power within the Holy Roman Lowlands. Johannes’ final confrontation was a long time in the making. Access to the sea, issues over the Utrechtian-Hollandic border, pirate raids and Frisian pleas over West Frisia were some of the reasons this war came about. The final Hollandic War saw the beginning of a trend in the later life of Johannes, that of worse and worse justification for war. By right, Johannes did not have a claim to the counties held by Willem V. Yet, as history often proves, might makes right. Eventually, his claim was based upon the history of the County of Holland. Holland once began as the County of Frisia, whose name was later corrupted to Holland from the old Dutch Holtland (land of woods). Through his overlordship of the Frisian Freedom he claimed old, remoulded County of Frisia.

Count Willem V, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to hold out against the combined resources of Johannes’ holdings. In a bid to take the initiative, he marched into the Duchy of Brabant, attempting to raid as much as possible, collecting loot to hopefully raise a mercenary army, deny Johannes whatever he could and convince him that taking Holland would simply cost to much. Sadly for him, the Gelrian response was too fast. Scouts had reported the army of Johannes moving south from Utrecht, placing himself between Willem and Holland, thus being able to force a battle. The Battle of ‘s Hertogenbosch was another slaughter. Whatever forces were able to escape prepared for the defence of Holland and Zeeland, hoping to do successfully what Willem IV had been unable to do, lead a war of attrition. The numbers were simply against them. Johannes lead a systematic campaign and was able to leverage the cities of West Frisia against Willem, losing him much of his realm already. Demoralized, Willem was captured after the successful siege of ‘s Gravenhage, surrendering his right to Holland, Zeeland and Henegouwen to Johannes. In assuming the title of count, he also began the political separation of the Northern Quarter of Holland, effectively separating West Frisia from the nobility of Holland proper again.


At the same time, the Emperor had begun the press the issue over Rijks Vlaanderen, the part of the County which the count held as a vasal of the Holy Roman Emperor. In the end, the emperor would win out over the king of France, leading to the inclusion of the area into the Duchy of Brabant.

The late 1370’ies were a time Johannes would begin the reworking of administration. He began officially working with the Frisians through the Opstaltree which the cities of West Frisia also had joined into a pact with. He also began the merging of the courts of Gelre, Kleef and the Saxon lands, although this project would take many more years, not being completed until the rule of his grandson. One of the main issues complicating this matter was the political independence of his son in the Duchy of Brunswick and the remaining independent political entities throughout Saxony.

For whatever reason, in 1377, a younger son of the King of Navarra attempted an invasion of Frisia, hoping to emulate what the Normans had succeeded at in Normandy and Sicily. Multiple smaller landings were repulsed. The same year, Pope Sergius V called for another crusade, this time with the aim of conquering Egypt. Whilst Johannes did wish to join, his ever advancing age did not permit him to make the journey to the hot lands beyond the Mediterranean. Instead, he decided to gather a portion of his, at the time much filled, treasury, and donate it to the Pope so that he may finance the war effort with it.

In 1380, the issue over Stood would finally spill over. Johannes wished to buy the land from the King of Swabia, yet he refused staunchly. Ever increasing his offers, the Swabians kept refusing. Eventually, Johannes pressed his claim as the rightful Duke of Saxony to the land, and declared war. The deciding battle would perhaps be the greatest victory of his life. Halslä was one of the few times he personally lead the army in its full capacity. What eventually own the day at Halslä was a charge of the knights lead by Johannes himself, immortalizing his nickname. After Stood had fallen after the fighting parties came to an agreement. Stood and the holdings in the area were surrendered to Johannes and in return a sum was payed as compensation for the loss. In effect, it was a forced sale.


The last years of his reign were characterized by his declining health. His son took on ever more responsibilities. Ever increasingly, the main decisions for the realm were made in Broenswiek, from where Johannes “de Slechte” ruled over his half of the old Welfian domain. When the Emperor called upon one of his most capable commanders to crush a revolt, Johannes had to decline, citing his old wounds and proneness to becoming ill. Yet, the realm continued on. What had gone through his mind these last years is often a point of discussion. Was he happy with what he left his son with? Or was he disappointed he hadn’t been able to do more? His dream was always to reunify Saxony, yet circumstances had forced him to turn attention to the west, yet this also proved to be his base on which he could go toe to toe with the Welfs, not even mentioning that the Netherlands would later become the cornerstone of the transcontinental empire that would be built. It’s interesting to wonder, but we’ll never know for certain.

After becoming infirm just past new year’s 1387 and his son being appointed as regent, Johannes “IJzervreter” Roderlo, Duke of Gelre, Brabant and Wittenberg, co-Duke of Brunswick, Count of Zutphen, Henegouwen, Namen, Zeeland and Holland, Overlord of Sticht, Kamerijk and Luik and Lord of Frisia, passed away in his sleep from the night of January 26th to the 27th, leaving his titles to his only son, Johannes “de Slechte” Roderlo.

He navigated the politics of his day pretty well, expanded his lands, and left his children a rich inheritance. All in all a success by any measure.
He navigated the politics of his day pretty well, expanded his lands, and left his children a rich inheritance. All in all a success by any measure.
The hope I had was always to have him be the re-founder of Saxony, but the first move of the marriage with the Welfs immediately threw that out of the window. Nonetheless, a very solid dynastic founder and a good character to be considered a Father of the Fatherland
Johannes "de Slechte"
The Reign of Johannes “de Slechte” Roderlo, Duke of Brunswick

Already 48 when inheriting the titles his father held, Johannes “de Slechte” didn’t rule for terribly long. Only for 8 years would he live whilst in control of these titles. His reign acted more as a prolonged regency for his second born son, also named Johannes. His eldest one, Karel, had passed away years before due to the effects of pneumonia.

Yet, this isn’t to say that the reign of Johannes “de Slechte” was unimportant. If anything, the solid passing on of power established by the sharing of power with his father proved the Roderlo’s were there to stay. What goes up fast, must come down fast, a realm built in 50 years can be destroyed in 50 years, yet Johannes proved this statement wrong. His first priority was the establishing of a stronger seat of ducal power. Ducal power itself rested on a small amount of the true territory of the whole of the Roderlo’s holdings. Throughout the realm, it rested upon the local nobility to enforce the laws. Only Gelre, Zutphen, Kleef and a small fraction of Brunswick directly fell under the rulership of Johannes. And, to lay the cornerstone for future centralization of ducal power, a proper power base was needed. He knew what the future would hold for his heirs, the final reunification of Saxony and a consolidation of power there. Whilst the Netherlands would provide wealth, it was still a frontier of the Empire. Despite the loss of Rijks Vlaanderen, Flanders still reached to the city walls of Antwerp. No, power had to be based somewhere else. And thus, Johannes began consolidating the area around Broenswiek and faced two noble revolts for it. It was this move against dependence on nobles which caused him to gain his nickname de Slechte, the Bad One.



Despite his nickname, Johannes was a man beloved by the clergy for his many virtues, although he didn’t start his reign out like that. Slothful, lustful, indulgent and a glutton, he began far from a saint. Yet, perhaps trough being faced with death by his father passing away, he reevaluated his life. His diet is often noted by those writing about his court. To loose weight, he also became a rather good duelist, competing in the great tournament organized by the emperor. He faced his slothfulness through his attempts to centralize the country, working ever harder to improve his new capital of Broenswiek.


What is perhaps his greatest achievement is the heir he brought forth. Perhaps because of the death of his firstborn, he wished to make Johannes into the best man he could be, perhaps the man he himself wasn’t and never could be. He would teach him in the ways of strategy, socializing and realm management. Yet, through this all, trough trying to push his ambition, he created a rift between them two. Throughout most of his life, Johannes I would look back upon his father in a negative manner, being overly controlling and pushing him too far at times, not letting him recover when he should have. It was only later that his opinion began to soften, when he himself required an heir, that he began to understand his father.

Perhaps Johannes knew he didn’t have long for this world, since he worked tirelessly for his succession. In an attempt to search for a new ally within the empire after the alliance with Swabia had broken down over Stood, he arranged a marriage with a Bohemian princess for his heir, although the early death of this princess would make sure this would never come to pass.

In the late months of 1394 Johannes retreated much more towards the monastery of Riddagshuuzen near Broenswiek. Soon, he fell ill and wasn’t able to visit mass there anymore, a fact which hurted him deeply. A painless death was not granted to him, his illness became worse and worse throughout 1395, being bound to his bed more and more. Soon, it became clear that he would not become healthy again, and he requested to be granted the last rites, which were administered on the 25th of July. Johannes “de Slechte” Roderlo, would pass away on the 2nd of August, just when an aide had left to get him something to drink. His titles passed on to his second son, Johannes I, first Grand Duke of Saxony.

Almost a footnote in the history of the dynasty