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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Jokerang

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Heirs to Arthur: A Wessex 769 AAR



This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,--This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. - William Shakespeare

Hey all, and welcome to my latest attempt at CKII AARing. I've played around with a number of starts in the Charlemagne start date and ultimately decided on the tried but true Wessex start. It's stable and well positioned to unite England quickly, or at least make yourself strong enough to keep the Vikings at bay.

Unlike my other AARs, I decided to go with a narrative format, similar to RossN's Tibet AAR, which I found was able to cover large periods of time in a single update while keeping a personal touch and allowing the reader to get to know the rulers in a sense. This is helpful considering how far back the Charlemagne start date begins. I plan to take this AAR to 1000 or 1066, depending on what happens and what there is to do gamewise. I don't play a world conquest or British empire forming or anything too spectacular, but uniting England and helping the Karlings beat back the pagans and Umayyads doesn't seem too far fetched.

Admittedly I'm no expert in early Anglo-Saxon England, but then again I don't think the people writing the other AARs on this site know everything about the countries they're writing alternate histories about.

I'll try to get a little prologue with Britain's backstory and the starting Wessex ruler up later today. Hope you all enjoy!
 

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Nice! Good luck, and here's to the Cerdicings then. :D
 

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Good luck!
 
Prologue: Britain and Wessex up until the death of King Cynewulf

Jokerang

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Prologue: Britain and Wessex up until the death of King Cynewulf

Even before the arrival and fall of the Romans, Britain had been a fractious land. The pre-Roman tribes from Jersey to Orkney fought and traded among themselves without thinking of uniting to create a greater sum than their parts. There was no need to, for at the time Gaul was largely the same way. Then the Romans came into Gaul and conquered. A hundred years after that, the Emperor Claudius landed four legions in Britain and conquered most of the island in a few years. There were some occasional revolts, but Britain largely adopted a Romano-British culture.

Then came the Anglo-Saxons. The predecessors of the later Vikings, these Germanic tribes invaded the island during a time of great instability and chaos. As the Western Roman Empire disentegrated over several decades, wave after wave of invaders proceeded to take over huge chunks of Roman land. In England it was the Anglo-Saxons, from modern Denmark and Saxony, that became the new rulers. Several small kingdoms were established in Roman Britain, one of which was centered in southern England, the Kingdom of the West Saxons, or Wessex for short. It is this kingdom and it's rise that we will chronicle and detail.

The name of the dynasty that formed England is known by many names: the House of Wessex, the House of England, the Cerdicings, etc. The last name derives from the semi-legendary founder of the Wessex, Cerdic. Whether he was native British, Anglo-Saxon, or of mixed ancestry is unknown, but all subsequent kings of Wessex would claim descent from him as their founder. In any case, he was prominent enough to demand attention in later eras.



Cerdic, the legendary founder of Wessex

Wessex continue to remain an independent kingdom for several centuries, largely untouched by both the Franks across the English Channel and the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The rise of England as a major European power begins with Cynewulf I, considered a "petty king" by contemporaries, along with his fellow kings in England and Ireland.

Not much is known about Cynewulf. What records we do have seem to indicate a man well versed in the diplomacy of his day, setting up good relations with both the powerful kingdom of Mercia to the north and the Lombards in Italy the latter of whom provided a wife for his heir. He was also thought to be at heart a religious and kindly man, who could not be provoked easily or led to distractions from his ambitions and goals. While he was largely content with ruling Wessex, the rise of his kingdom can traced back to his reign. For example, Cynewulf is the first Anglo Saxon ruler to use the primogeniture system of inheritance, as opposed to dividing the crown lands among all sons.



Cynewulf I of Wessex. Known by his contemporaries for both piety and diplomacy, he was well regarded by later scholars and kings.

That being said, Cynewulf's reign was rather uneventful. The independent county of Sussex was conquered in the 770s, but other than that the old king appears not to have made any serious attempt to significantly expand his lands. It is likely that he preferred to be on good terms with his neighbors and fellow rulers, as opposed to giving them a reason to unite against any aggressive gains he made. While one small county could be absorbed without much trouble, the same could not be said for the client kings of the king of Mercia. Kent, Essex, and East Anglia, for example, all paid tribute to Mercia. To attack one was to attack them all.

While Cynewulf consolidated his gains and personal rule, other rulers on the continent were expanding in significant force. The Umayyad Caliphate, now reduced to Spain, continued to provoke Asturias to no end. And in Francia, King Karl - better known to history as Charlemagne, or Charles the Great - quickly became the most powerful man in Western Europe. After his brother Karlmann died under suspicious circumstances, Karl became master of the entire Frankish realm. He quickly put this to good advantage, going to war with the Saxons at his northeastern border. During the course of this war, he burned a number of sites sacred to the pagan Saxons, demoralizing them and sending them on the retreat.



Europe in 781, just before Charlemagne's eventual conquest of the Saxons. As seen from the map, the Franks are easily the most powerful entity in the region.

Karl would eventually defeat the Saxons in 782, forcing them to submit to Frankish authority. It was ironic; the Franks, once pagan opportunists taking advantage of a Roman Empire falling apart, now invaded their ancestral homeland as Christian conquerors. The Saxons would occasionally attempt to revolt and become independent once more, but would never again threaten Karl seriously.

Cynewulf, however, would not live to see it. Already sickly around this time, he attempted several "measures to save his life with the help of the occult" which apparently did not work. He died in early 782, of what we could probably call cancer in our time. He was succeeded without difficulty by his son Beorhtric, who would continue to advance the Cerdicing cause and promote Wessex as the preeminent power in Britain.



Beorhtric I succeeds to the throne of Wessex
 

Pied-Noir

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A good first chapter - RIP Cynewulf!
 

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Looks intriguing, subbed!
 

Nikolai

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A very nice start, you've got the hang of this style. :)
 

volksmarschall

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Good luck and great start! Looking forward to more.

Cheers!
 

Jokerang

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A good first chapter - RIP Cynewulf!
The first of many rulers to come and go, surely.

A very nice start, you've got the hang of this style. :)
Thanks, I'm trying to get a history book feel, or maybe popular history. I'm still meaning to do one in this style for Imperator as Egypt or the Seleucids, but I'm waiting for the latest update over on that side with 1.4.

Good luck and great start! Looking forward to more.

Cheers!
Thanks, always great to have established AARers commenting.
 

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Tuning in. One hopes this House can reach great heights and become the Mercia of its time.
 

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Beorhtric I "Red-Cheeks" of Wessex, up to 800

Jokerang

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Beorhtric I of Wessex, up to 800

Cynewulf was succeeded by his son Beorhtric without much difficulty. Given a diplomatic education in his childhood growing up, Beorhtric learned more of it through experience rather than at the hands of expert diplomats. He was was a paradox in some ways, being both good natured and cruel towards enemies, both just and yet unforgiving towards perceived slights when they arose. The Wessex he ruled nevertheless flourished, becoming one of the richest and stable petty kingdoms on the island.

Coming to the throne at the age of 32, Beorhtric had seen his fair share of court intrigue and royal management. In the last few years of his father's reign, he had been given the role of royal steward, being placed in charge of taxes and overseeing the coffers being filled by cities and clergy alike. He had been a loyal supporter of his father's policies and continued them upon his accession.



Beorhtric at the age of 32, in the first year of his rule

Beorhtric is notable for being the first Anglo-Saxon king of note to take a wife from the continent. Cynewulf's good relations with the Lombards were to the extent that King Desiderius agreed to give him a daughter for Beorhtric's wife. That daughter was Dauferada, and although she was a few years older than Beorhtric, she and her husband got along well. They had three children by the time Beorhtric became king, and a second daughter was born not long after. Given Dauferada's sisters were married such rulers as Charlemagne and the Duke of Bentevento, the marriage solidfied Wessex's position as one of the prominent of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.



Princess Dauferada of Lombardy, wife of Beorhtric

Much of what we know about Beorhtric's reign comes from the king's own hand. He was an accomplished writer in an age where over half the population probably didn't know how to read or write. He wrote council meeting reports, commentaries of both ancient history and biblical stories, and especially Anglo-Saxon poetry, of which a good two dozen poems survive to this day. He is rare among the late Dark Ages monarchs for his prolific writings.



Among the most notable of the surviving poems is "the Comforts of Dauferada". Later in his reign, Dauferada became sullen and depressed, and began eating as stress relief. Modern historians believe she may have suffered from postpartem depression, as well as being discouraged by reports of an attempt to dispose her brother in Lombardy. Beorhtric's attempt to cheer up his wife, from poor attempts at humor and jokes to long retreats in the royal forest, are recorded in the poem, and an original copy survives in the Cathedral of Winchester to this day.



The 780s were a time of great building in the crown lands of Wessex. Archaeological evidence points to the first significant expansion of small holdings in Dorset, Somerset, and Wiltshire, turning them into what would later be described as proper castles. The taxes Beorhtric had accumulated over the last years of his father's reign were put to use in these construction projects, building everything from moats to makeshift stone walls to hiring garrisons. Through this, he hoped to better assure his people of their safety in times of war, which were to follow on and off throughout the next century.

Beorhtric's continuation of his father's policies began with expansion along the English coast. Mercia's hold on other small kingdoms was broken as one by one they chose not to pay tribute anymore. Mercia, no longer possessing the will or strength of arms to enforce the payments anymore, chose to reluctantly let them go in silence. Almost immediately, Beorhtric began to loom in the distance, looking for any little excuse to pounce and sieze land on the southern coast of England, to further his father's dream of creating a united England, which had not been seen since the pre-Celtic times according to the legend of King Lear. In 785, Beorhtric's agents found something to work with: a late Roman document assigning Kent to a military district based in modern Wessex. Despite the fact that the Roman Empire was long gone in all but name (notwithstanding the Byzantine Empire of the Greeks),Beorhtric took it, demanding the king of Kent submit and become a vassal. Unsurprisingly, this king refused, giving Beorhtric the excuse he needed to go to war.



Beorhtric took the lead in the war early on, having a numerical advantage and employing several mercenary captains from the continent to drill his levies into a half-competent fighting force. However, Eadberht of Kent would not surrender without a fight, and a number of skirmishes were fought before a decisive battle outside a castle called Leeds. Beorhtric led from the front, and was wounded while in the thick of the fight. However the superior numbers of his forces won the day, and Beorhtric recovered as his levies besieged Eadberht's strongholds over the next few months, forcing them into submission.



By 787, Beorhtric declared victory and forced his rival into exile. He selected as the new lord of Kent one Azzone Ventimiglia, an Italian soldier of fortune that had served as flank commander in the Kent war. It was an odd choice, as there were presumably no shortage of Anglo-Saxon men who could've been granted the title, but Beirhtric probably wanted someone both loyal and reliable as his effective governor in the conquered lands. In any case, Azzone's children were being reared in Wessex, absorbing Anglo customs and the local language. In time they would be little different than the homegrown nobility.



Azzone Ventimiglia, Count of Kent under King Beorhtric

Beorhtric's attempts to conquer more land were less successful. He would make no more attempts at swallowing up the small lords around him for the next decade, having not been able to justify them as well as Kent was. Several attested chancellors are known from this time period, which may attest to Beorhtric's fustration at being unable to expand as quickly as he expected.

Nevertheless, Wessex did well during this time, and a chance event saw the royal coffers grown even larger than before. In 788 a proposal was made to begin a trading route among the pagan lands of the Baltic Sea. It was dangerous - more than one of Beorhtric's missionaries sent to the region found himself in chains - but the rewards would make the effort worth it, if successful. Assembling a party of adventurers and traders, Beorhtric undertook what would be called "the crossing of the Baltic". Up and down he went, attempting to convince one after another local leader to do business with his realm. Most declined in one form or fashion, but this bad luck was reversed upon reaching the far end of the Baltic Sea.

Here, Beorhtric met a younger chieftain named Treniota, who ran a tribe called the Zemigallians. Treniota reacted warmly to the outsiders, inviting them to feast with him in exchange for a number of English gifts. For a week, Beorhtric and Treniota discussed a number of matters related to gold, and how to increase it for both of them. By the time, the Wessex fleet chose to leave back for home, the two rulers were on good terms, and even made an attempt to exchange letters. Several of Treniota's have survived to this day, in a number of English museums. They are written in a tongue related to Old English, but show hints of a language evolving with time and circumstance.



By this time, both of Beorhtric's sons were coming of age and ready to participate on the affairs of state. The elder son, Cerdic, was given a number of minor court roles and married to the daughter of the Count of Wight, a known beauty who would solidify the support of that island count. The younger son, Cynewulf, was harder to find a good match for. It made little sense for a younger son to be married to a princess or duke's daughter, but local rulers within Britain might be available. And indeed, there was one at the fight time: a countess named Hunydd in Wales, who ruled a small but independent realm. Beorhtric must've seen an opportunity to grant his second son land without eating into the inheritance of Cerdic, and soon arranged a betrothal between Hunydd and Cynewulf.

The county would be known to history as Brycheiniog, after the family of Hunydd, and while Beorhtric did not become it's overlord, control of it would be ensured for a younger branch of the house of Wessex/Cerdicings.



All in all, Beorhtric did well in the first part of his reign, and by the 800 had a compact and well run realm to show for as he turned fifty. However, this year marks, for historians, the beginning a new age. An age where raiders and invaders from Scandinavia came down in waves to terrify and harass the Christian parts of Europe for decades to come. We know it has the Viking Age.

 

Pied-Noir

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Excellent update and a nice chapter. Interesting place to end it - I hope those mean Norse don't bother you. :(
 

!Peel

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Oh no, Vikings. I hate it when they raid just after you fight a war and they get away with so much gold! Hopefully Red-Cheeks (how did he get that anyhow??) can stem the tide!
 

Nikolai

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Times are going to be troubled forward.
 

Jokerang

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Excellent update and a nice chapter. Interesting place to end it - I hope those mean Norse don't bother you. :(
We'll probably have to play whack a mole with their raids in the future. We're not so weak that they can just plan an invasion... or can they?

Oh boy, here's when things get interesting, hopefully those northmen weaken your neighbors so you can sweep in ;).
Or better: towards Francia and their occasional doomstacks.

Oh no, Vikings. I hate it when they raid just after you fight a war and they get away with so much gold! Hopefully Red-Cheeks (how did he get that anyhow??) can stem the tide!
No idea - I think it's one of the newer random nicknames that characters both playable and NPCs can get.

Times are going to be troubled forward.
The Vikings have been quiet so far...
 

stnylan

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Will follow