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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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Watched.

Been lurking for a while and forgot to watch.

My only quibble is the outburst of Protestant Iconoclasm, I feel like there are enough High Church Protestants for such a thing to be almost non-existent.

Very good otherwise.
 

Adamgerd

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Great Story. Lurked mainly and read it. It's interesting, especially that your approach is in some places more diplomatic and less aggressive, like not annexing land and giving reasons why and it makes for a different kind of war
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 40: The Dutch Revolt, 1594-1596


At the end of the Sixteenth Century, the Netherlands, or Low Countries, were an eclectic mixture of small, independent states and the territories of great powers. Once the domain of the powerful Dukes of Burgundy, the region changed dramatically in 1460. The death of the last Burgundian Duke, Charles I “the Bold”, in that year led to a succession crisis that threatened to spark yet another war between the great houses of Habsburg and Valois, both of whom claimed the Burgundian throne. However, skillful diplomacy from both sides averted the crisis, and instead split the lands of Burgundy between the two powers. The several states that were vassals of Burgundy were granted independence.


The Low Countries and surrounding region in 1594

For the French, the stunning collapse of the Burgundian house removed one rival on its frontier only to replace it with another. From the start, the French made every effort to undermine Habsburg legitimacy and influence over their newly acquired lands, known thenceforth as the Austrian Netherlands. Thus, Valois dynastic ambition trumped any loyalty to the Catholic Church when it came to this part of Europe. When the Reformation swept out of Germany and into the Low Countries, French gold funded Protestant missionaries working tirelessly to turn the people of those lands against the Church and, by extension, the Habsburgs.

To a certain extent, the strategy worked. Much of the Netherlands embraced the faiths of Luther or Calvin. On the other hand, the new religions did not lead to a general revolt against Austrian rule. The Austrian Netherlands benefitted from being directly ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, and the Habsburgs reciprocated their subjects' loyalty by enacting policies of religious tolerance far more generous than those in the rest of the Empire. Therefore, even the breakout of the War of the Religious Leagues did not trigger rebellion.

The Austrian defeat in that war however fundamentally changed their relationship with the possessions. First, the Austrians were forced to grant independence to the Duchy of Brabant. Second, the loss of the imperial crown by the Habsburgs lowered the prestige of being ruled from Vienna. Third, the rise of a new, Lutheran Emperor kindled a stronger sense of Protestant solidarity as well as the feeling that total victory over the Catholic Church was a realistic possibility. Fourth, the Habsburg reaction to their defeat was to crack down on religious tolerance and unleash the full force of the Counter-Reformation in the Austrian Netherlands. Fifth, the mercantile power of the small, independent states in the Low Countries created both a new national feeling and a growing self-confidence. These turns of events poisoned relations between Vienna and its subjects while forming a uniting bond between those small states striving to become greater powers and the Habsburg subjects yearning for freedom, both religious and political.

Into this milieu stepped the ambitious Johann von Habsburg, cousin of the Archduchess Maria Theresa and already designated as heir to the throne of Austria. Like his cousin, Johann was focused above all on the recuperation of Habsburg prestige lost following their defeat at the hands of the King of Bohemia and the Protestant German princelings. Educated by a series of strident Jesuits in his youth, he remained a devout Catholic, married to the equally pious Princess Joanna of the Spanish House of Trastámara, and harbored a deep-seated hatred for Protestants. His numerous trips to visit his wife's family in Iberia made him well acquainted with the Spanish Inquisition, and he liked what he saw. The Trastámara took a liking to Johann, and he took a liking to Spain. Even in the Netherlands, he preferred to be addressed by his Spanish title of Infante, at least unofficially. The governor wanted to bring the Inquisition into the Low Countries to roll back the gains made by the "wretched heretics," as he called them.


Johann von Habsburg, Royal Governor of the Austrian Netherlands

Opposing any backslide toward Papism and any efforts toward increased control made by the Habsburgs, was a motley array of enlightened aristocratic merchants, zealous Protestant churchmen, and ambitious princely dynasties. However, united the Dutch patriots, for it would be accurate to call them that, were in their goals, they were at odds in their methods. The merchant classes favored a mercantile republic based on the model of the great states of the Hanseatic League. On the other hand, the large noble houses, from whom came the Stadtholders, favored a monarchy. That each of them thought only a member of their own dynasty ought to be king did not deter them from their mission. The fissures between the two political camps went right down the line to the churches, united in their zeal to spread their faith and quash Papal influence but divided in which faction could best facilitate their goal. The religious split was not only political, but also theological.

The Dutch Revolt began as a series of popular uprisings, led by the landed aristocracy in the countryside and the burghers in the cities, against the Habsburg dynasty and the Catholic Church. The first incidence occurred Ghent on 12 November 1594. A week later, the burghers of Bruges marched into the Basilica of the Holy Blood, expelled the priests, giving them a day to take with them the relics and statuary they wished to save, and declared it to be a Protestant church. When the Austrian-appointed administrator of the city, Franz von Kleinberg attempted to intervene with a small group of soldiers, he was driven off, along with his men, by the sticks and stones of the assembled crowd. When word got back to Johann von Habsburg of the occurrences, the Royal Governor, infuriated, called the Austrian Army of Flanders to arms and summoned the Stadtholder of the two provinces from which the disturbances originated, to his capital at Brussels.

No character on the Dutch side of this drama stood out more than Paul, Duke of Orange. The Stadtholder of Vlaanderen and Ghent, a member of the House of Nassau-Orange, and nephew of the Prince of Nassau, Paul saw himself as the natural choice to be ruler of the new Dutch state. In his early thirties, handsome, imperious, and ambitious, he was married into the Calvinist House of Odescalchi. His wife, Amalia, with her darker Lombard features, was considered an exotic beauty in the Low Countries. Her older brother and the head of the family was Duke Azzone II of Milan, one of the leading Calvinist princes in Europe and a potential thorn in the side of the Habsburgs and any of their allies. Paul of Orange was held in high esteem by the nobility of the Low Countries. Suspecting he desired to curb their power and autonomy, he was less beloved by the merchants and bankers. Nevertheless, they were still willing to look to him as the man to unite the various Dutch factions. It was for this reason that Johann summoned him to appear at Brussels to account for the subjects over whom he was supposed to exercise authority. The Duke of Orange replied with a courteous but firm letter declining the Royal Governor’s summons. As a result, Johann von Habsburg placed an order of arrest for Paul and several his closest associates.

For Paul, the summons and ensuing declaration by the Royal Governor were expected. He knew full well that refusing the prosecution of the rebellious subjects meant war with the Habsburg dynasty. He was a Calvinist and was publicly devoted to his faith’s preservation and advancement. The idea of fighting justly for the rights of the Dutch crown and religious freedom cannot therefore have been displeasing to him. Optimistic as he was he had never thought to increase his power without conflict and he regarded the prospect of war with conventional distress only. He had not the imagination which grasps the meaning of famine, fire, and sword in their effect on individuals and he resembled the greater numbers of his contemporaries in thinking it more dreadful that the Catholic soldiery should introduce “papist idols” into Protestant churches than that they should hunt the peasants into their burning houses.


Paul I of the House of Orange-Nassau, Duke of Orange, Stadtholder of Vlaanderen and Ghent

It was around this man that the Dutch cause would coalesce. However, he was not the only relevant prince in the Netherlands. Paul’s biggest rival was his cousin, Guillaume I von Heinsberg, Duke of Brabant. Brabant was the largest of the independent states in the Netherlands. However, Duke Guillaume was a cautious man and his main goal was to turn Brabant into a great mercantile power on par with his neighbors to the northeast, Oldenburg and Münster. The Duke of Brabant was also a Lutheran and did not approve of his cousin’s Calvinism. Guillaume was not an adventurous man nor one to strike out on his own. Thus, his policy was the policy of the Lutheran German princes among whose ranks he sought to rise.

On the other side of the matter was Filips I von Holstein, Duke of Utrecht. FIlips ruled over the smallest of the intendent Dutch states, albeit one that held its own among the great economic powers of northern Europe. In his mid-forties, the Duke of Utrecht was of the opposite temperament to Guillaume I. Imaginative, bold, and open to risk, he had built his small duchy into a commercial hub by engaging in almost constant mercantile warfare with the states of the Hanseatic League, and giving as good as he got in the process. His personal admiration for Paul of Orange combined with his bitter dislike of Prince-Elector Dietrich II of Oldenburg and Prince-Elector Friedrich IV of Münster to drive him toward the policy of Dutch independence. However, while Filips I was a man willing to take risks, he was not a stupid man either. He stopped short of joining Paul's revolt until his friend could show he had a realistic chance of winning. That meant securing great power allies and it also meant bringing Amsterdam into the pro-independence fold.

The mercantile, cultural, spiritual, and artistic center of the Netherlands was the great port city of Amsterdam. Compared to other population centers in the region such as Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Nijmegen, Amsterdam was relatively young, not being granted city rights until 1306. However, it became a center of trade as Dutch merchants spread out across the world. The capital of the independent Duchy of Holland and home to the court of Duke Eberhard I von Monheim, the bustling port was a prosperous and cosmopolitan place. The Duke was a Protestant, but favored a policy of religious toleration to remain on friendly terms with his powerful Austrian neighbors. Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, Huguenots from France, prosperous merchants and printers from Flanders, and economic and religious refugees from across Europe found safety and a home there. This mixture of peoples only served to strengthen the city both culturally and economically.

The situation came to a head in mid-February of 1595. On the 14th, Paul of Orange and his retinue arrived in Amsterdam to meet with the pro-independence faction of the merchant leadership there as well as the duke. Duke Eberhard however wanted to prevent his duchy from joining the burgeoning revolt. He was also married to Elizabeth Lancaster, sister of King James I of England. Paul met with his merchant allies at a tavern on the Oudekerksplein in the early evening. Hoping to catch them unawares, the Duke sent a large contingent of his guard to arrest the conspirators. They succeeded in capturing many of them, including Jan Huyghen van Linschoten and Cornelia de Houtman, the two top officials of the Amsterdam Trade Corporation. However, the Duke of Orange and his followers escaped.

Instead of fleeing Amsterdam, Paul went through the streets raising the citizenry, already disgruntled with Eberhard’s policies, to free their fellow Dutchmen. By the early morning hours of 15 February, a massive mob assembled outside the prison where the men were held. The Duke of Holland’s men refused to attack the crowd, and more than a few crossed the lines to join them. Sensing the impending catastrophe, the Duke of Holland and his household fled the capital, making for Brussels and the protection of Habsburg arms. Meanwhile, the Duke of Orange emerged before the jubilant crowd along with van Linschoten and de Houtman. By acclamation, Paul was offered the new title of “Prince of Orange and Lord Protector of the Dutch Republic.” He readily accepted, and the following day, 15 February 1595, the Amsterdam city council formally bestowed it upon him. They also formally joined their province to Vlaanderen, Ghent, and Loon, already formally in uprising against the Habsburg dynasty. Johann von Habsburg had summoned Paul to Brussels as a rebel. Just three months later, that rebel was heading a new nation on the European continent, and the Dutch Revolt was now a true war.


The Dutch Republic declared independence on 15 February 1595

The events at Amsterdam served to unify the Dutch people behind the new Prince. The frankness with which he had guaranteed a Dutch constitution, the bustling competence of his advisors, the hope of powerful allies, and the beauty of the young Italian princess, including the flattering fact that although she was far advanced in pregnancy she risked the arduous journey in order to bear her child in the new capital, all served to create a groundswell of popularity for Paul of Orange, one that only disaster at war would be able to break.

The outbreak of the Dutch Revolt immediately transformed into an international crisis. The newly made Prince of Orange was a skilled politician and diplomat with a realist outlook. He understood that before even the Holy Roman Emperor, the potential ally who gave him the best chance at success was the King of France. Just one week after the Amsterdam Rising he boarded a ship and made for France. Paul landed at Le Havre on the north coast and then traveled overland along the Seine to Paris. When he arrived at the French capital, he was welcomed with open arms by King Louis XVII.

Despite all the tumult of the Reformation and France's own domestic religious disturbances, the House of Valois still viewed the rival Habsburgs as their greatest threat. Thus, their foreign policy was always designed, above all else, in opposition to the Archduchy of Austria. A quarter century before the Amsterdam Rising, they had sided with the King of Bohemia to end one hundred thirty-five years of Habsburg hereditary control of the imperial crown. Now the Valois were once again ready to support a Protestant cause to weaken their hated enemy. Therefore, King Louis readily agreed to support the Dutch cause.

Surprisingly, Prague, not Paris, was the more hesitant ally. The Emperor and nearly all the most influential princes were Lutheran, whereas the majority of the Dutch rebels were Calvinists. The mutual distrust and dislike between the two great branches of the Reformation would plague the pro-Dutch cause for the duration of the war. Within the court at Prague two factions emerged. The first, led by Hans Josef Gerstner favored neutrality. They tended to be religiously moderate, drew their strength from the urban nobility and the merchant classes, and favored consolidating their power within the Empire. The other faction tended to come from the landed rural aristocracy. More zealous in their Lutheranism, there was no guarantee that they would support a Calvinist revolt on the northwestern periphery of the Empire. However, their hatred and distrust for the Catholic Church trumped their concerns about increasing Calvinist influence. Their primary spokesman was that old immovable fanatic, Jindrich Flakensteina.

The entrance of France into the conflict helped make the decision to support the rebels easier for Emperor Vladimir I. Still, outside the political squabbles of his own court, two factors caused the Emperor to initially hold back, one internal to the Empire and one external. Since the end of the War of the Religious Leagues, the Empire had been almost uniformly at peace. This gave the House of Podebrad and the Kingdom of Bohemia time to consolidate their hold on power and increase their popularity. Emperor Premysl Otakar, the great Protestant hero of the last war, was dead and though his son now reigned his hold on power was tenuous. The Habsburgs remained a threat to challenge for the imperial title as did several of the great Protestant princes, Prince-Elector Christian I of the ascendant Saxony above all.


Vladimir I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia

The external factor can be summed up in one word: Poland. King August II's decision to throw his power behind the Evangelical Union changed the equation in the last war. His son, Stanislaw II on the other hand was firmly dedicated to the Catholic cause. He signed alliances with both Austria and Tuscany and represented a serious strategic threat to the Empire's eastern flank. His sister was married to Alberto dé Medici, heir to the Tuscan throne. Internal political divisions kept Stanislaw from entering the war in the early stages, but even in neutrality, Poland tied down imperial military assets who were required to stay back and protect against possible attack. And when, later, Poland did enter the conflict, it would prove decisive.

Nevertheless, despite strategic reservations and the ever-present Lutheran disdain for Calvinists, Emperor Vladimir I finally relented and declared imperial support for the Dutch rebels. After all, the Netherlands were within the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire, and to let the King of France intervene alone would be a serious black mark of the prestige of the House of Podebrad. With the bulk of the Austrian armies already en route to the Low Countries, the Habsburg lands were weakly defended and presented an all too tempting opportunity. Vladimir gave command of the main imperial army to Premysl Otakar ze Lvovic and ordered him to wreak havoc on Austria and to take Vienna. The Bohemian conquest of Vienna in 1575 had sounded the death knell for the Catholic war effort that time, and the Emperor was surely hoping for a repeat performance in an even shorter time.

The greatest disappointment of the Prince of Orange’s diplomacy was his abject failure in bringing Milan, ruled by his brother-in-law onto his coalition. The Duchy of Milan, boasting a rich and well-fortified capital and defensible terrain in the Alps would have been an ideal partner in the war. Using Milan’s strategic position, armies from the Grand Duchy of Tuscany could be kept on the southern slopes of the Alps. However, Duke Azzone II was a careful and calculating man. His sister Amalia may have been married to the Prince of Orange, but the future of the dynasty lay in Lombardy and the Alps, not in the Netherlands. Azzone was busy consolidating his rule and building up his domestic defenses. Entering a war that could bring upon him the wrath of both the Habsburg and the Medici was not on his list of priorities. Therefore, despite the sweet and desperate pleas of the Princess of Orange, despite Paul’s appeals to their common Calvinist faith, the Milanese armies would stay in their places along the upper Po and in the Alpine passes.

With the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France both supporting the Dutch, Archduchess Maria Theresa and her ministers began assembling their own coalition. First, they reached out to their steadfast Catholic allies, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Unlike Paul, the Archduchess was able to easily convince her Italian ally to enter the conflict. Grand Duke Francesco I was committed to the pro-Catholic cause and much of Tuscan foreign policy over the preceding decade had been focused precisely on limiting Protestant gains, both within Italy and abroad. Furthermore, Francesco, an experienced battle commander and stout Catholic, was personally enraged with the decision of King Louis XVII of France's decision to once again side with Protestants against Catholics.

Nevertheless, the decision to bring his realm into another European war weighed heavily on the Grand Duke’s conscience. He told the high council that he needed a night to reflect and retired to his chambers. When his confessor, the Jesuit Father Rodrigo Insigne, came to speak some words of comfort to him, he found Francesco prostrate before his crucifix. Rising, the Grand Duke declared with confidence, rather than resignation, that he had been seeking counsel where, alone, he knew it to be found and that he was now prepared to die if need be in the only righteous cause. Had the Savior spoken to him from the Cross, as the Florentines afterwards averred, Francesco could not have been more serenely confident. When he appeared before his council again the following morning, he swore to march his army to the Low Countries through France. After joining the war on the Austrian side, he promptly dispatched a letter to Louis.

Louis,
Have you forgotten your role as a King in the service of the Holy Roman Church? Has your own vanity and ambition so blinded you to the threat faced by all those who profess the One True Faith? Your treachery has gained you and your dynasty infamy in the lands of Italy, lands in which the House of France was once much beloved. The Medici arms bear upon them the arms of the Valois as a testament to the love and friendship that once existed between our families and our people. You, by siding with the heretic and the insurrectionist, have forsaken that bond.

The Lord teaches us to forgive those who trespass against us, and in time I will also forgive you, for we are still brothers in the faith. Before that however, I will ensure that you are reminded of the consequences that those who stray for the true path must suffer. I will march my armies against your lands. I will despoil your vassal the Duchy of Montferrat, whose ruling family has for years conspired against me. I will storm your Cisalpine fortress at Cuneo. Then, my men and I will cross the Alps, into the heart of your kingdom and light a fire from Languedoc to the Île-de-France. Before this war ends I will hear you confess your sins and crimes against the Catholic Faith inside the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. Then I will take the capital of this so-called Dutch Republic, expel the heretics, and return it to the bosom of the Church.

You think your armies are powerful and that they will defeat us. You are wrong. You think your fortresses are stout and that they will stop us. You are wrong. You think your subjects, who I know are still good hearted despite the wickedness of their king, will rise up and molest us. You are wrong. Our blades are sharp. Our guns aim true. Our discipline is iron. Most importantly, God marches with us. You will learn your folly.

Francesco de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, King of Naples, Soldier of the Church

In previous years, the threats and boasts coming from a Grand Duke of Tuscany would have elicited laughs from the monarch of a power such as France. The Dutch war however was to signal Tuscany's true arrival as a great power on the continental stage. At the early date upon which Francesco I dispatched his message it seemed like a heavy dose of overly bold bravado. By the end of the war, no European head of state would take a similar proclamation from Florence lightly.


King Louis XVII of France

The other great ally in the Austrian arsenal came from the other side of the English Channel. England, under King James I, on the surface appeared to have every reason to support the Dutch Revolt. They were major trading partners with the merchants of Amsterdam, Ghent, and Utrecht. The English were Protestants, albeit of a different variety than the Lutherans or Calvinists. Rumors even spread in Protestant circles that he had known about and supported Prince Paul’s coup in Amsterdam. As a result, the King of England officially and arduously denied to every sovereign in Europe that he had countenanced or even known of the project. The enthusiasm of the Londoners who attempted to stage an illumination in the new Prince’s honor, and of the ardent Protestants throughout the country who at once began to collect money for his cause, did nothing to move James from his initial obstinacy. If anything, the swirling rumors only served to harden his stance.

There were three main issues that brought the King of England onto the side of the Catholic League. The first was familial. When Paul of Orange and his supporters expelled Duke Eberhard of Holland, they were expelling James's brother-in-law and, perhaps closer to his heart, his sister Elizabeth, from their homes. The second was he ever present Anglo-French rivalry. If the King of France supported the Dutch, then the King of England supported their former overlords. Finally, despite the volume of goods traded between the British Isles and the Low Countries, the English merchants viewed a unified and independent Dutch state as far too great of a potential rival. Better, they calculated, to keep them divided, under the rule of different laws and tariffs, and squabbling among themselves. Thus, they lobbied James I in the direction he already favored. With the confluence of personal, political, and mercantile factors all pointing to joining the anti-Dutch side, King James made his decision.

With the sides of the war set, Europe was ready to plunge back into conflict. The Habsburgs had sent about half their fighting strength to the Low Countries, leaving them depleted numbers to defend their homelands. The Emperor took full advantage, ordering the Bohemian army to invade Austria under the command of the veteran general Premysl Otakar ze Lvovic. Lvovic had been a good friend and capable lieutenant to Veleslavina, the Czech hero of the War of the Religious Leagues. After Veleslavina's death in 1591, the Emperor turned to Lvovic.

Opposing the imperial invasion was the Austrian army led by Georg von Waldstein. Waldstein was from a powerful and wealthy noble family and was heir to the County of Gorz. He had spent some time in the Austrian army, but had never seen combat and was selected more because he was a favorite of Archduchess Maria Theresa than because of any proven battlefield achievements. Nevertheless, he was bright and energetic, if lacking in command experience.


Georg von Waldstein, General of the Austrian Army

The two sides met for the first time near Linz on 17 March 1595. Waldstein deployed his troops in an effort to prevent the Bohemians from crossing the Danube and wanted to hold the bridge. However, Lvovic sent a cavalry contingent upriver where they seized the ferry boats at Ottensheim and then used the crafts to cross the river there. This allowed them to take the Austrian reserve in the rear on the south bank of the Danube while most of the army was to the north. The result was a near catastrophic defeat for the Austrians and a momentum building victory for the imperial forces. To his credit, Waldstein kept the army together, brought them back south across the river, and managed an orderly retreat to Vienna.

To the south, the Catholic League scored a minor, if important victory. Grand Duke Francesco I and his Armata del Nord destroyed the army of Montferrat on 22 March and began laying siege to the capital city. Duke Otto I di Morra fled along with his family and court into France. Less than two and a half months later, on 31 May, the garrison surrendered and Montferrat fell into Tuscan hands. The victory was important because it added to the depth of Italy's network of defense structures.



Tuscany’s easy victory over the Duchy of Montferrat helped open the Alpine passes into France

The Catholic League’s first tangible victory was soon cancelled out by the news that the uprising in the Netherlands was expanding. After some trepidation, Duke Filips I of Utrecht joined the war exactly six months after it officially began, on 15 August 1595, pledging his loyalty and his state’s resources to the cause of the Prince of Orange and the Dutch Republic.


The Duchy of Utrecht joined the Dutch Republic on 15 August 1595

Along the north coast of France, the English navy wreaked havoc upon French shipping and when Louis XVII's war fleet sailed out to try and stop them, they were decisively defeated in Quiberon Bay on 3 March 1595. Just two weeks later, on 17 March, the Tuscan admiral Giovanni Tempesta defeated a French fleet off the coast of Naples and chased them all the way back in to port on the southern French coast. These two early maritime clashes signaled that one of the constants of the war would be naval dominance by the anti-Dutch side. Still, in the War of the Religious Leagues, the Catholic League, featuring not just the English and the Tuscans but the Spanish as well, had dominated the battle on the water but still lost the wider war.

On land however, the Catholic League remained in difficulty. Following the victory at Linz, Lvovic pressed his advantage, marching his army along the south side of the Danube completely unopposed toward the Habsburg capital. Waldstein organized his men and prepared to meet the enemy at Döbling to the north west of Vienna. However, once again, the Austrians were outflanked when Lvovic sent a force through the hills to the west and nearly cut off Waldstein's army. After suffering heavy losses, the Austrians were forced to cut and run, Archduchess Maria Theresa and the royal court in tow.


Maria Theresa von Habsburg, Archduchess of Austria

The defeat outside Vienna was devastating for Austrian morale. It appeared as if the catastrophe of the War of the Religious Leagues was repeating itself. Lvovic gave no respite either. After the combined army and court retreated southwest first to Wolfsburg then to Klagenfurt, he detached a portion of his army to hold the lines around Vienna while the rest of the Bohemians pursued. As Lvovic descended on Innsbruck, Emperor Vladimir himself led a second Bohemian army to reinforce the siege and take the Habsburg capital.

Grand Duke Francesco received the news of the Austrian collapse while besieging the French fortress at Cuneo, the last obstacle preventing the Tuscan army from crossing the Alps into France. He immediately sent word back to General Pietro di Campofregoso, who was marching north with the Armata del Sud. Originally, the plan was for Francesco to advance through eastern France while Campofregoso took his men north along the eastern bank of the Rhine, guarding their flank. Instead, the Grand Duke ordered his top general to reinforce the Austrians in any way possible. At the time Campofregoso got the order, the southern army was just crossing into southern Tuscany from Lazio, having been delayed by poor weather in the Mezzogiorno. They were near Grosseto, traveling along the Via Aurelia, or Aurelian Way, the old Roman road that went from the Eternal City into France.

Meanwhile, the Armata del Sud, numbering about 13,000 men, crossed the Apennines in late November and four days later rendezvoused with an additional 3,000 newly raised troops from the Val Padana. Campofregoso reorganized the newly bolstered force to accommodate the added numbers as well as to more readily work alongside the Austrians if they did in fact retreat south of the Alps and into Italy. He renamed his army the Armata del Po and prepared to make his stand somewhere along Italy's great river.

The two Habsburg armies in Austria, one at Klagenfurt and the other at Innsbruck, were separated with little hope of linking up. Lvovic was too experienced to let it happen and he smelled blood. It was the Archduchess Maria Theresa who came up with a bold but risky plan to try and salvage the situation. Both forces would retreat south into Italy, link up with each other and, hopefully, Tuscan reinforcements heading north. Maria Theresa had Francesco I's assurance that his men were moving to reinforce Austria. This meant, however, making the difficult Alpine crossing in winter.

The army at Innsbruck crossed the Alps through the Brenner Pass, on to Bolzen and Trent before finally reaching Verona inside Tuscan territory on 28 December 1595. Waldstein's army, retreating from Klagenfurt along with the defiant Archduchess, crossed through the Predil Pass on 2 January 1596, arriving at Udine on 7 January. Two days later, Campofregoso’s Armata del Po completed arrived at Parma. Lvovic, however, was not far behind. He led his force of approximately 35,000 men, all buoyed by their tremendous success in Austria, south into Italy. They arrived at Trent on 14 January, intent on destroying the remaining Habsburg armies and then knocking Tuscany out of the war quickly.

With strength dispersed, the Austrians and Tuscans had to find a place to bring their forces together and regroup quickly. Campofregoso halted his men at Parma and dispatched riders to both Waldstein and Ferdinand von Abensperg. Waldstein had, by then, moved from Udine to the fortified city of Treviso, while von Abensperg was still at Verona. With Lvovic coming down from Trent, he would be able to avoid the fortress at Treviso and focus instead on the Tuscan defenses along the Po. Waldstein had the larger of the two Austrian armies, totaling a little over 10,000. Von Abensperg only had about 7,000 men and was barely a viable field force in its own right, as his artillery outnumbered his infantry and he had no cavalry to speak of. Still, his guns could make the difference. Going from west to east, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany had three great fortresses along the Po: Parma, Mantua, and Ferrara. Ferrara was immediately cast aside as an option since moving there would leave the road to Florence wide open to the Bohemian invaders. Parma was well placed and the stoutest fort of the three. However, it had two drawbacks. The first was that it was very far from Treviso and there was a substantial risk that Lvovic would be able to cut off Waldstein before he could make it all the way across the Val Padana. The second, and more important reason from a domestic political perspective, was the Parma sat on the western edge of the fertile Val Padana. If the Tuscan army sat back and defended there, it left the entire region at the mercy of the invaders. If the Bohemians pillaged and torched the Italian riverlands, as they had done when they last invaded in the Summer of 1575 when they had also sacked the city of Cremona, it could severely impact the Tuscan economy and war effort for a long time. Campofregoso and his officers decided that the city of Mantua, well-fortified and strategically located on a triangle formed by the Mincio and Po rivers was where they would make their stand. During the last Bohemian invasion, during the War of the Religious Leagues, Campofregoso had been a regimental commander for General Giuseppe Terreni, who had also chosen Mantua as the place to make his stand they defeated the Bohemians, commanded by Josef Václav Sokol, at the Battle of Castellucchio. There is little doubt that Campofregoso sought to make a great name for himself on the same land where his predecessor had beaten back the invading Czechs two decades earlier.


Pietro di Campofregoso, Count of Marsciano and General of the Armata del Po

Both Waldstein and von Abensperg marched their armies quickly southwest and south respectively. The latter reached Mantua on 3 February and the former arrived on 9 February. By that point, Lvovic had crossed the Tuscan frontier and stopped at the town of Bussolengo, between the River Adige and the southern shores of Lake Garda, about fourteen kilometers west of Verona and about forty-five kilometers north of Mantua. The combined Austro-Tuscan army at Mantua now totaled just under 34,000 men, making it basically even with its imperial foe. Mantua was well supplied, even in the dead of winter, and the battered Austrian troops finally had the opportunity to rest, refit, and recover after the severe beatings and marches they had endured over the preceding months. There was a brief debate over who would take overall command, with the proud Waldstein claiming his right to it, but that was squashed when Archduchess Maria Theresa ordered all the Austrian commanders to place themselves and their men under Campofregoso’s leadership.

The Bohemian army finally stirred on 13 February, marching south from Bussolengo, bypassing Verona, but ravaging the surrounding countryside. The risk for Campofregoso of taking up the position at Mantua was that it left the entire Lower Po Valley to the east vulnerable to attack. However, Lvovic was focused on the armies of his foes for the time being, not capturing cities. His men did burn and loot as they moved south, but they did not stop and take any town with even the most minimal fortifications. On 19 February, the Bohemian army reached the north bank of the Mincio. There were two bridges that crossed the river at Mantua but both were easily defensible. The one further downriver was a narrow wooden causeway barely wide enough to accommodate two wagons side by side. If the Bohemians attempted to cross this way, their men would be mowed down by canon and arquebus fire and, even if they got close, the defenders could simply light the bridge on fire. The crossing further upriver was wider and made of stone. However, to get to it, the invaders would first have to take the Cittadella, a fortified suburb on the northern bank. Campofregoso had emplaced about 2,000 infantrymen and twenty guns there, to delay its capture as long as possible. Even if the Cittadella did fall, the Bohemians would still have to cross the bridge under heavy fire and then breach the thick walls and doors of the city itself. There was a third option for Lvovic of crossing the river further upstream and splitting his army to surround the city of Mantua, but this was a risky proposition as well. He decided, for the time being, to do nothing major.

The Bohemian army sat north of the river and began bombarding the walls of the Cittadella relentlessly. Raiding and foraging parties set out continuously to ravage the countryside in hopes of luring the defenders out. On the afternoon of 20 February, a Bohemian regiment entered the town of Ghisiolo, about eight kilometers northeast of Mantua, looted the city, and slaughtered most of the population. By the next morning, word reached the defenders at the city. Many of the Tuscan officers demanded vengeance and refused to sit idly. Campofregoso relented and agreed to an attack but he refused to do anything reckless. Two young officers presented a bold plan that the general could not turn down.

Prince Giulio dé Medici and his friend Federico Boncompagni claimed to know of a secret route across the Mincio through the swamps further up river. They got the information from three fisherman who had stopped in the city to drop off supplies. The three men claimed they could guide an army across the river, though at certain points they would have to travel single file. Prince Giulio and Gattilusio convinced Campofregoso to let them take a mounted contingent across using this alleged secret path and attack the Bohemian camp from the rear. At the same time, the main army would amass troops at the Cittadella and, once the fighting began, pour out from the gate and attack from the south.

The two young officers set out from Mantua with 2,000 cavalry, nearly entire mounted strength of the Austro-Tuscan army, after dark on 21 February. They followed the three fishermen west, just past the small town of Grazie, and crossed through the swampy bogs. Once across, they moved north through the Forest of the Fontana to conceal their movement. At the same time, another 10,000 men packed into the Citadella to launch the second part of the surprise attack. Just before dawn, Prince Giulio dé Medici personally led the charge onto the Bohemian camp. The soldiers, most of whom were either asleep or still getting up, were taken by complete surprise. When the Tuscan and Austrian guns from inside the Cittadella and from across the river opened up on them, the scene of chaos was complete. By the time the sun was up, the entire Bohemian right flank was in danger of collapse.

Despite the initial shock however, the Bohemians rallied, and Lvovic managed to prevent a rout. They held their ground and reinforced key points along the line. Only when a second infantry force made it across the eastern wooden causeway did Lvovic call for retreat, once his army was at risk of being surrounded.


The swamps of the Mincio

The Bohemian retreat began in good order, but after several days things began to come apart. The late winter rains and heavy fogs typical of the Val Padana slowed their movement and turned the ground into muck. Many wagons had to be abandoned and men regularly got lost, either when they got disoriented on the march or else when they failed to find their way back while out foraging. The residents of the Po Valley were more than happy to exact the “peasants’ revenge” on the fleeing invaders. As an example, on 2 March, outside the small town of Roverbella, angry peasants murdered about a dozen Bohemian soldiers in two separate and grisly incidents. In the first, on the morning of that day, eight Bohemian soldiers were found sheltering in a barn. The villagers surrounded it while the men slept then entered. Three of the men were killed on the spot. The remaining five were forced to dig a large grave which they thought would be used for their companions. However, to their horror they soon realized they too were meant to go inside. Despite some resistance, the five men were buried alive along with their three already dead comrades. Later that evening, four soldiers were caught trying to steal some chickens. They were tied up then sewn into a sack and dumped into a nearby stream to drown. Incidents such as these, though shocking, were repeated throughout the region and, indeed, throughout Europe whenever retreating stragglers from an invading army were caught by the vengeful peasantry. It represented a crude and cruel justice system for the soldiers who regularly inflicted harm and suffering on local populations.


The Austro-Tuscan victory at Mantua halted the previously unstoppable momentum of the Bohemian army.

The Battle of Mantua was a turning point in the war. Though the battle took place far from the Low Countries, the victory saved the Catholic League from an early collapse. The imperial army was forced into a hasty and disorganized retreat north of the Alps with the Tuscans and reinvigorated Austrians in pursuit. Though most of the Archduchy, including Vienna, was still in the hands of the Bohemians, the entire tone of the conflict changed. It was the Emperor who now found himself on the defensive. More importantly, the success at Mantua gave the Polish king the confidence he needed to throw the substantial weight of his country onto the side of the Catholic League. Just three months after Mantua, on 21 May 1596, the Kingdom of Poland declared war on the Kingdom of Bohemia. While the Austrian campaign in the Netherlands themselves was still bogged down in a stalemate with the French, the crusading army of Grand Duke Francesco I was wreaking havoc on southeastern France, giving the Valois a preview of the disaster that would soon arrive at their very doorstep. The war was far from over, but the tide was turning very much in the favor of the Catholic League.


Poland’s declaration of war against Bohemia put greater strain on the Emperor’s resources and armies



 
Last edited:

JerseyGiants88

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Watched.

Been lurking for a while and forgot to watch.

My only quibble is the outburst of Protestant Iconoclasm, I feel like there are enough High Church Protestants for such a thing to be almost non-existent.

Very good otherwise.
Thank you for the attention to detail. I assume you are referring to the iconoclastic outbursts following the War of the Religious Leagues in Chapter 35. I based that on real historical events that took place in the Netherlands in the mid to late-1560s, the so-called Beeldenstorm, which was part of the early movement toward the real life Dutch revolt against the Habsburgs and their ensuing war for independence. Similar incidents of iconoclastic vandalism occurred in Germany throughout the second half of the Sixteenth Century, albeit they were rare and less organized than the Dutch example. From my research it seems as if it was more of a Calvinist thing than a Lutheran one, so on that point you are correct (assuming you are referring to Lutherans as the High Church Protestants in this case) however I did find some reports of Lutherans partaking as well in Germany. In the case of the AAR, I figured the overthrow of Catholic rule within the Empire was a good enough reason to trigger some violent iconoclastic outbursts, particularly in areas where a Protestant population was ruled over by a Catholic leader. All that being said, my main area of knowledge when it comes to this time period in history is Italy, not Germany nor the Netherlands, so I can't say I get everything completely right when I discuss these regions.

Great Story. Lurked mainly and read it. It's interesting, especially that your approach is in some places more diplomatic and less aggressive, like not annexing land and giving reasons why and it makes for a different kind of war
Thank you. I don't know if I necessarily have turned down opportunities to annex stuff that much, but thus far the war settlements have worked out for the story structure of the AAR. As for reasons why peace agreements go a certain way, I certainly try to explain away whatever happens, even when our beloved EUIV throws some absurd outcomes into the mix, particularly when the main war parties are AI on AI. Anyway, I hope they have all for the most part made sense in story.
 

AvatarOfKhaine

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Great update, but you made reference to Empress Maria Theresa, is this an oversight or did I miss her marriage to an Emperor?
 

JerseyGiants88

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Great update, but you made reference to Empress Maria Theresa, is this an oversight or did I miss her marriage to an Emperor?
It was an oversight, thanks for catching it, she's been reduced back to her rightful title of Archduchess.
 

Casko

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Woo! Another Grand update.
let us wish for good luck for the Habsburgs and the Italian Armies

And as said before I too love the way your AAR is written. and is not merely a map-painter
 

Nikolai

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I find myself wanted to cheer on both our protagonists and the Dutch.:p
 

JerseyGiants88

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Historical Vignette 19: Fire and Mud, 21-22 February 1596


Mantua in 1596

Prince Giulio dé Medici and Federico Boncompagni strode through the early morning fog to the gates of the Palazzo Bonacolsi, on the opposite side of Piazza San Pietro from Mantua’s Ducal Palace. The two young men were brimming with confidence. They had a plan. All the top ranking officers of the Armata del Nord as well as their Austrian counterparts were going to the Palazzo Bonacolsi. That was where General Pietro di Campofregoso made his headquarters and, on that evening, he had called a meeting. Giulio and Federico were among the first to arrive. They made their way through the frescoed halls and entered the main ballroom, which served as the general’s war room. Maps of northern Italy and the Alps hung about the place along with studies of the bridges around Matua.


The fog in Piazza San Pietro

The general was not present, but his second in command and top infantry officer, Carlo Cercignani, was. Also in the room were two Austrian officers and a young woman wearing men’s breeches and a dark leather tunic. Her hair was so blonde it appeared to be almost white. Why was she dressed that way? Was she a camp follower? Giulio wondered, looking her over. The general, being the religious man that he was, would never tolerate a whore in his own headquarters, even if she accompanied allied officers. The group was engaged in an animated discussion in French. When Cercignani saw the pair come through the door he stopped and switched back to Italian.

“You two are on time,” he said wryly, “this can only mean that there has been a catastrophe or that you have come up with something you think is smart.”

“Let us hope it is a catastrophe then,” the woman broke in, giggling before they could answer. Her Italian pronunciation was good but her accent gave her away as a German speaker. Giulio fixed his gaze on her. Suddenly, it dawned on him who she was. However, before he could do or say anything, Federico’s voice rang out.

“Smart mouth you’ve got, girl,” he said in that exaggerated, cocky tone he put on when he thought he was going to say something clever, “but I’ve got something here you can use it on too.” He pointed lewdly at his crotch.

Before Giulio even had the time to yell at his friend, the two Austrian officers were on him. One of them had drawn his sword but the other hadn’t even bothered. He speared Federico into the ground and straddled the Italian’s midsection, choking him out. The officer was bellowing something angrily in German. Gulio had not, at first, realized just how large this man was. Across the room Cercignani stood there, his face buried in his hands, shaking his head. The young woman was laughing and the other Austrian officer seemed content to let his colleague do the work. Giulio debated whether he should step in to help his friend but then decided against it.

The young woman shouted something in German and the Austrian officer released Federico, who began instantly gasping for breath. As he stood the Austrian kicked Federico in the ribs and growled what could have been nothing other than a particularly vile insult.

Giulio walked over to help his friend up. He felt bad for letting him take a beating. Still, a beating was the least Federico deserved for propositioning oral sex to the Archduchess of Austria.


Federico Boncompagni
______________________________________________________

By the time the last of the Austrian and Tuscan officers filed into the ballroom, the story about Federico had already made the rounds. Most of their fellow Tuscan officers made good natured jests and laughed at the bruises on Federico’s face and neck. Their Austrian counterparts, on the other hand just glowered at him darkly. The raucous atmosphere in the room quieted down immediately when General Campofregoso walked in. He strode to the center table upon which lay a large map of Mantua and the surrounding country. Next to the general stood his confessor and the Armata del Po’s senior chaplain, Father Baldassare Rigoli of the Society of Jesus. The priest opened the war council as the officers of the army did every meeting: with a blessing and prayer.

Once that was concluded, Campofregoso looked around. “I know many of you are angered by what happened at Ghisiolo yesterday,” he began in his usual gruff voice. He wore a black mantle fastened onto his shoulders by a buckle with the Medici coat of arms on the right and one with the Campofregoso coat of arms, bearing a black ram rampant with white horns on a gold field, on the left. He took a long pause, during which no other man dared break the silence. “Like many of you, I had the honor to serve under the great Giuseppe Terreni,” he began again, “and he taught me that emotional decisions are rash decisions and that rash decisions get your army destroyed and you killed. There will be no rash decisions.” He swept his gaze around the room. “That being said,” he continued, “if any of you have a plan to strike back at these vile Protestants, I will hear it now.”


The Ghisiolo Massacre

Federico looked at Giulio. The prince took a deep breath and stood. “General,” he said loudly. The whole room turned to look at him. The prince could hear murmurs in the crowd. He took another deep breath. “General, we believe there is a way to outflank the enemy and fall upon his rear so—”

“Who is ‘we’, Your Grace?” asked the general, cutting him off.

Giulio looked at Federico, who in turn lowered his gaze. “Federico Boncompagni and I,” replied Giulio.

“Oh, the man who cannot even maintain the discipline of his tongue before Her Highness the Archduchess?” boomed Goffredo della Valle. A sharp look from Campofregoso silenced his laughter immediately, much to Giulio’s relief.

“Captain Boncompagni disgraced himself today before our most pious and Catholic guest, Her Highness the Archduchess Maria Theresa,” said the general, glowering at Federico, “and for that I am sure he will make the proper atonement, as is becoming an officer and nobleman of this army.” Giulio felt bad for Federico. Surely “proper atonement” in the mind of General Campofregoso meant something physically or emotionally painful. “And,” the general went on, “if she deems him worthy of her consideration, let alone her pity, Her Highness may eventually forgive him. That being said, and with all due respect to Her Highness, our fellow officer’s social ignorance and ineptitude do not necessarily affect his ability to make sound tactical and strategic judgments. Go on.”

“Thank you General,” said Giulio. “Today, three peasants came to our camp and told us they knew of a way through the swamps of the Mincio, upriver from Mantua. We can use this way to flank around and fall upon the enemy’s rear.”

Giulio’s statement sent murmurs through the crowd of assembled officers. “How long will it take to move our whole army through the swamps?” asked Sigismondo Piccolimini, “if we are discovered they will cut us to pieces as we wade through the muck.” Some of the other men raised their voices in agreement.

“Not the whole army,” replied Giulio, “just the cavalry. We can send them through the swamp and then they will ride around and strike the imperial camp before dawn.”

“You mean to destroy the Bohemian army with 2,000 horse?” asked an incredulous Emmanuele Montefeltro. “I consider myself a skilled horseman,” he added, “but not so skilled I can defeat an enemy that outnumbers me fifteen to one.” That sent a wave of laughs through the crowd.

“No,” said Giulio, “I was not finished. As the cavalry attacks the rear of the camp, the guns in the Cittadella will open up on the near side of the camp, sowing confusion and chaos. Finally, once the enemy is in disarray, we open the gates and send out the infantry to destroy them.”

Giulio looked around and saw that some of the men were nodding in agreement. At least he had some support.

“I disagree with this plan,” said Piccolimini rising, “with all due respect Your Grace, to send the entirety of our already small mounted force out on this mission is asking for disaster. I say we hold our ground and let the Protestants break themselves against our walls.”

After Piccolimini, several other officers rose to echo his point. Giulio sighed, this was not going well.

“Gentlemen,” said a voice breaking through the crowd. It belonged to Carlo Cercignani. “We can stay here and let them continue their siege. Perhaps they fail to break through. But what happens elsewhere? We are not the only ones in this war. Our Grand Duke is campaigning in France, with one army alone against numberless foes. Our Austrian brothers here among us have to wake up each morning knowing that their homeland is under the boot of the heretic Emperor and his legions. We can stay here, yes, behind the walls of this great fortress, but if we do so, we fail our friends. I say this is a moment for a bold strike. Not because we are angry at our foes’ depredations. Not because we seek glory for its own sake. But because it is the soundest move from a strategic perspective. This is a European war and we must think beyond our own line of sight and up to a higher level. How long can the Armata del Nord fight alone against the King of France and the Prince of Orange? How long must our Austrian brothers and sisters of the faith live under the rule of a heretical tyrant? These are the questions we must ask ourselves if we choose to stay behind our walls. I say we ride out to meet them. If His Grace’s plan succeeds, we can very well break the imperial army and rid Italy of her once and for all.” When Cercignani finished, a loud cheer went up in the room.

“I agree with Colonel Cercignani,” said a voice speaking in Italian with a thick Germanic accent. It was Georg von Waldstein, the Austrian commander. “These officers show boldness, boldness that can give us victory,” he shouted to the crowd. Giulio bristled at being referred to as “these officers” by one of his social inferiors. Especially one whose greatest military achievement was preventing his army from disintegrating after being dealt defeat after defeat on his own home soil. The rumor going around the camp that he was a frequent invitee to the Archduchess’s bedchamber certainly did not help him gain esteem in the prince’s mind either. Still, he was supporting the plan. The room was full of loud talking now, all the men voicing their opinions.

Campofregoso waved his hands and suddenly it all went quiet again. “Your Grace,” said the general, “show me on the map what you and your friend mean to do.” Giulio walked over to the large table and illustrated for the old general how he intended for the attack to work. The commander pondered the idea. Finally, after what felt like an eternal silence, he said: “very well.” Giulio was unsure if he was simply acknowledging that he understood the plan or if the general had just accepted the proposal. His question was answered quickly however. “Brief the other officers and then go prepare your men, you will be leading this little expedition.”

“Me?” asked Giulio slightly incredulous.

“My apologies Your Grace,” said Campofregoso, “I meant to say His Grace the Prince of Orvieto will be leading the attack. Are there any questions?” Giulio could not tell if the general was being sarcastic or not. Neither his face nor voice gave anything away.

Giulio turned to the assembled crowd, all of them focused in on him. You are a Medici Prince, he told himself gathering up his courage, this is your destiny. He glanced at the map and rapidly reviewed the plan in his mind. “Gentlemen,” he began, “my plan is this…”


Giulio de Medici, Prince of Orvieto
______________________________________________________

By the time the details of the plan were fleshed out and all questions had been answered it was early afternoon. Giulio rubbed his eyes, still not really believing his plan had been accepted. He was eager to go prepare his men for the important mission. He bid farwell to Wolfgang Stralsund, one of the Austrian cavalry officers and nodded to Federico that they should go. His friend got up and began heading for the door.

“Medici!” came the gravelly voice of General Campofregoso. Giulio looked longingly at the door in front of him, wishing he could just run through it. Federico looked at him and shrugged. Giulio replied with a slight head shake followed by a nearly imperceptible nod toward the door. His friend smiled gratefully and kept moving toward the exit. Giulio turned and went back to the center of the room.

Around the large dark wood table in the center stood three Italians: the General, EmmanueleMontefeltro the Duke of Urbino, and Carlo Cercignani. There were also two Austrians: Georg von Waldstein and the Archduchess Maria Theresa I von Habsburg. Behind her, along the wall, stood several handmaidens and servants attending her.

“The Archduchess would like to speak with you alone,” said Campofregoso in a tone that indicated he was not too happy about that. Leaving aside any other issues of social and military rank, the simplest reason the general was unhappy is that he looked with disapproval at his men mingling with any women who were not their wives or direct family. To let an unmarried pair speak alone in his own headquarters room, regardless of who the pair might be, must have truly upset him. Nevertheless, the word of the Archduchess of Austria trumped that of a Tuscan general from a minor noble family every time, even in the Po Valley. “Be sure you mind your courtesies,” he grumbled, “unlike that Neapolitan savage you call a friend.” He gestured for Cercignani and Montefeltro to follow him and swept out of the room.

Maria Theresa looked at Giulio then turned her head. “Leave Us,” she said loudly, the servants bowed and immediately made for the exits. Waldstein remained, leaning cockily against the wooden table. “So Medici, you must be—”

“You too, General,” said Maria Theresa, cutting off Waldstein’s statement. It looked as if he was about to protest, but he thought better of it, bowed, and slowly made his way toward the door. He did shoot a suspicious glance at Giulio before stalking away.

“How—how may I be of service Your Highness,” asked Giulio, unsure of himself. The Archduchess was an attractive young lady, even in her masculine attire. Maria Theresa was only sixteen years old, five years younger than Giulio was, but she carried herself like a fully-grown woman.

“You can speak with me like a normal person,” she replied, “I never get to be a normal person. I’m always Maria Theresa I, titles, titles, titles.” She gave Giulio a warm smile, “but with you, since we’re cousins and nearly of the same social rank, I can just be a girl.” It was true, the two shared a common ancestor in Cesare dé Medici, whose eldest daughter, Margherita, married the Emperor Maximilian I while his son, Francesco Stefano, became the second Grand Duke of Tuscany.


Maria Theresa I von Habsburg, Archduchess of Austria

“My friend did not mean offense, Your Highness,” said Giulio referring to Federico.

“What did I say? Spare me the Highnesses,” she replied, waving her hand. She propped herself up on the edge of the table, dangling her slender legs off the side. “I know he meant no offense,” she continued, “he probably took me for a prostitute or some such woman dressed as I am.”

Giulio laughed, trying to relax, “why are you dressed like that?”

“I was walking the walls,” she replied, as if it were the most natural and self-explanatory thing in the world. “I can’t do that very well in a gown.”

“Why?” the prince asked, puzzled, “you have officers to do that.”

She sighed and looked at her feet as if this was the most irritating question possible. “When you have been on campaign as I have,” she said, “you will learn that men need to be motivated to be good fighters.”

Giulio shot Maria Theresa a skeptical look in reply to her claims of campaign experience. “Did I touch a nerve, warrior prince?” The Archduchess gave him a sly smile and poked his leg with the tip of her riding boot.

Giulio shrugged and stepped back out of reach of her legs. “Sure, if you call a headlong retreat from your own homeland a ‘campaign’.”

“Call it what you will,” she said becoming serious, “there are many disadvantages to being a woman and a sovereign. One of the advantages seems to be that men are more inclined to die for a lady, particularly one they find attractive, than for a man. It’s all very romantic.”

Giulio studied her a moment, then smirked. “Well cousin,” he said, “word in the camp is that you are particularly good at motivating a certain general.”

The Archduchess laughed out loud. “If you are referring to the vile rumors about General von Waldstein and me, they are none of your men’s concern.” She pushed some strands of her white-blonde hair off her forehead. “But between us cousins, like I said, I am human.”

“You could have picked a more militarily competent lover,” said Giulio rubbing his chin.

“Don’t sell him short,” she shot back, “he’s demonstrated a great deal of skill.”

“On the battlefield?” asked Giulio mockingly, “or in your bed?”

Maria Theresa stood up and took a few steps toward him. She roughly grabbed Giulio’s collar and pulled his face close to hers. “You forget yourself Giulio dé Medici,” the Archduchess said in a low, menacing voice, “don’t mistake Our kindness for weakness. Many have done so already during Our short reign and have regretted it.” Giulio knew it was bad news since she began referring to herself in the first-person plural. “You are still just a second son with no great achievement of your own. We are the ruler of a great power from one of the greatest dynasties to have ever existed. You will remember that when you speak to Us. Do you understand?”

Giulio was taken aback at the change in her mood. “Ye-Yes Your Highness,” he stammered.

“Good boy,” she said, flashing a satisfied smile. The Archduchess let go of Giulio’s collar and lowered her hands to his chest. “Well I hope now you have a burning desire to get back into the good graces of your ally’s sovereign.”

Giulio nodded meekly. He was in no way inexperienced with women, but he had also never been in a situation where the woman could assert her authority over him.

“Another good answer cousin,” Maria Theresa replied to his nod. She rolled her fingers into fists, gripped his shirt, and moved Giulio along with her back to the table. She sat back on the edge, legs apart, and pulled the prince between them. She grabbed the back of his head with her right hand and put his cheek against her own. The Archduchess whispered into his ear, slowly, clearly: “We want you to kill every last one of those Protestant bastards. We want you to make them suffer. We want revenge for their taking of Our capital.” Then she pushed him away. “Now run along little soldier,” she said condescendingly, “before your commander gets angry with you. If you lose tomorrow morning, I do not expect to see you again, cousin. But, if you do win and you survive, come see me and we can revisit the topic of my lovers’ military competence.” She waved her hand dismissively, “you may go now.”

Giulio bowed, “Your Highness.” He took three steps backward before turning around and heading for the door. He walked quickly, trying to make sense of the encounter.

“Oh Giulio,” came the Archduchess’s voice.

The prince stopped and turned, “yes Your Highness?”

“That,” she replied, hands on her hips, “was me instilling motivation.”

______________________________________________________


The swamps along the Mincio River

Giulio dé Medici felt the fetid water sloshing around inside his boots. After several dips into the marshes of the Mincio, they were filled and he knew there was little hope of changing his socks before he and his men had to give battle. He sighed and rubbed his temple. The upward movement of his arm caused the upper end of his breastplate to scrape against his neck, which at this point was nearly rubbed raw. They don’t mention that in the stories, Giulio thought bitterly to himself, the hero never has to worry about chafing from his armor or getting himself tangled in the sling of his weapons or getting saddle sores. Giulio decided right then and there that if he survived the war, he would make up a realistic martial story, one where the majority of the hero’s time is spent dealing with blisters and rashes and lice. That was another one, apparently when on campaign lice did not seem to care if one was a peasant or the son of the Grand Duke.

Ahead of him, Giulio could see the slumped backs of the three peasant fishermen who were leading him on this ludicrous venture. It had been Federico’s idea to talk to them. “They spend all their time in these waters,” he said to Giulio, “they surely know all of the secrets of the area.” Sure enough, it was a good idea, and the men agreed, after the promise of some money and benefits, to show them the way.

Giulio had to admit that Federico had always been the better tactical thinker. Just like his cousin Alessandro was the better swordsman and Leo had the better mind for politics. Giulio could always hold his own with them, but never quite measured up. There was the added fact that despite being the “best” of them from the point of view of social status, Giulio was always a sort of outcast with his friends. His cousin Alessandro was also the son of a Grand Duke, Filippo I, but his mother was an Abyssinian servant woman, thereby making him a bastard. He had never even been allowed to wear the name Medici until Giulio’s father bestowed it upon Alessandro as thanks for foiling the Duke of Ferrara’s Bologna Plot. Federico came to the Medici household as a hostage, held to ensure that his older brother Alfonso, former Duke of Caserta and claimant to the kingship of Naples, no longer troubled the realm. Finally, Leo and his sister came to the family as orphans after their father, Silvio Gattilusio, was killed at the Battle of Parma in 1580. All the boys had grown up together, but as a “Prince of Tuscany” Giulio always stood somewhat apart from the other three. He knew that he enjoyed privileges they would never know, yet the distance these created between him and his friends always left him feeling somewhat alone.

Of course, one of those privileges was that people listened to him. After the peasants promised to show them the way through the swamp, Giulio and Federico had hatched their plan to flank around the rear of the Bohemian army and hit them as they slept.

Giulio’s thoughts were interrupted by the feeling of his horse’s hooves landing on solid ground. “We are out of the swamp, my Prince,” the peasant named Lomello whispered back over his shoulder. Giulio nodded and turned around to see his men following behind him. Once they were all out of the swamp he wanted to change the formation so they were no longer single file. He had about 2,000 cavalrymen with him, mostly Tuscans with a smattering of Austrians. Assured his men were still following, Giulio gestured to Federico, riding right behind him, to come along then spurred his horse up toward the three peasants at the front of the column.

“How far to the forest?” Giulio asked them as they rode along. Lomello, the largest of the three rode his own donkey, while the other two, Pierino and Lizzo, rode together on a second animal.

“We will cross into the open for a short way then enter the forest my Prince,” replied Pierino, “we’ll show you.”

“How far in the open?” Giulio asked. The moon was nearly full and the illumination that night was high. This had been great as they were crossing the swamps, but now that they were going to be crossing open fields it suddenly became a danger. All it would take was a Bohemian scouting party or even just some freebooters to sound the alarm, raise the Czech camp, and then Giulio and the entirety of the Austro-Tuscan cavalry would be cut off on the wrong side of the river.

Pierino shrugged and looked to Lomello. The big peasant shrugged as well. “Not too far,” he said.

Giulio looked at Federico. His Neapolitan friend was smiling. “Not wanting to run into the Emperor’s men tonight?” he asked chuckling.

“Yes, I’d rather avoid meeting their guns while half our men are still mucking their way through the swamp.”

“Give me twenty men,” said Federico confidently, “we’ll ride out from here and screen the main body’s movement to the east, looking out for scouts or any other Czech or German pains in the ass. If we see them we’ll start shooting and whooping and you’ll be sure to hear us.”

Giulio thought about it. “Do you know who you want to take?”

Federico flashed Giulio one of his trademark wicked smiles, “yeah, get me Sforza and his cronies, I have something in mind for once we get into the shit.”


______________________________________________________

The deployment into line of battle at the edge of the forest went smoother than Giulio dé Medici had expected. He had his subordinate officers to thank for that. It was their duty to follow his orders, he knew that. Still, most of them had multiple battles and campaigns in their past while he, a prince, was still unblooded. Even the Archduchess of Austria had reminded him of that. Nevertheless, they gave him their full faith and confidence. He could not let them down.


The forest of the Fontana

The entire host was drawn up two ranks deep on the edge of the tree line of the Fontana forest. To the east lay the imperialist camp. “When Your Grace is ready,” said Severino Colonna, “I can sound the attack.”

Giulio looked left and right down the line. He could not see very far in the still dark morning. The prince put on his helmet and buckled it. He whispered a quiet prayer to the Virgin asking for her protection for him and his men. Though he would never admit to it, Giulio was nervous and scared. Buckling his helmet, an action he had performed countless times throughout his life, was made difficult by his trembling hands. “Sound the attack,” he said finally, trying to keep his voice steady.

Colonna picked up his horn and let out three long blasts. Within seconds, other horns down both sides of the line echoed the call. Now the Bohemian sentries would know they were there, Giulio just hoped it was too late for them to respond effectively. The prince spurred his horse full on ahead, the big charger picking up speed quickly. No turning back now, he thought to himself grimly. The sky was getting lighter, which meant that soon enough they would be fighting into the rising sun. For the moment however, the world was still a deep blue-gray. To the prince’s left and right his fellow cavalrymen, nearly the entire mounted strength of the Austro-Tuscan army, thundered ahead. For a moment, Giulio dé Medici closed his eyes, feeling the cool wind whipping across his face and up into his helmet. He took in the moment, a moment he had dreamed of since he was a young boy: his first taste of battle. Moments earlier, he’d been dreading it, rethinking his entire desire to be a soldier. Now, with his men riding alongside, it seemed the greatest thing in all the world.

Suddenly, the prince’s thoughts were ripped back to the present moment by a large explosion to his front right. That one was followed several seconds later by another two, all in the same vicinity. For a moment, Giulio’s heart thundered with a feeling of dread. They’ve brought their cannons to bear against us, he thought, horrified. Then, he saw the smoke and flame rising directly into the sky. “Their powder kegs!” he shouted to nobody in particular. He spurred his horse on faster, the tents of the Protestant camp growing larger as the Catholic horse closed the distance. Darkened figures scurried about amongst them, running every which way.

As the formation of horse moved across the open field, they transitioned from two ranks into one, better to provide one massed volley into the first line of the enemy defense. By the time the movement was complete, the imperial camp was only a few hundred yards ahead. Giulio could now hear shouting and make out several loose groups of men, some wielding pikes but others seemingly unarmed, emerge from the mass of tents and try to form up. Giulio gripped his carbine and brought it up. The first line of resistance was to be met with fire from the mounted troops, and after that it would be sabers and pistols the rest of the way. When they were within one hundred yards of their foe, Giulio pumped his fist in the direction of Colonna. The lieutenant raised a red pennant high into the air. All around, the booming noise of firing carbines filled the air. Giulio squeezed the trigger on his own weapon, causing it to buck violently. In front of him, several enemy soldiers fell, but there was no way to tell if any were from his gun or from those of his comrades.

Giulio went to lower the carbine and draw his saber but the sling got caught on the shoulders of his gilded armor. The prince jerked the weapon to try and get it loose, but as he did so his horse jumped a ditch, causing the weapon to jump with it. The butt stock struck Giulio hard in the mouth. Enraged, he tore at the sling until it broke, and then he flung the weapon to the ground. As Giulio finally drew his saber, he tasted blood in his mouth from where the carbine split his lip. Some first battle wound, he thought bitterly to himself. There was not much time to reflect on the matter however, because as he looked up he realized he was nearly on top of the enemy. At that moment, a lead ball pinged off his breastplate. It was a close call, but his well-made armor saved him. The enemy formation was loosely packed and only two to three ranks deep. The men were haphazardly clad, with some in full armor and others barely dressed.

Palle! Palle!” (“Balls! Balls!”) roared the men of the Tuscan horse, using that beloved slogan that was both meant to honor the devices on the Medici coat of arms as well as the men’s own genitalia. Almost in unison, the mass of cavalry smashed into the flimsy defensive line, shattering it instantly. The first man Giulio encountered tried to run him through with a pike. The thrust was wild and out of control, passing across his body. The prince trapped it between his left arm and breastplate and wrenched it free. The soldier stumbled and fell face first into the mud. For half a second Giulio thought to use the man’s own pike against him, but it would have been an awkward and time-consuming move to turn it around and wield it. Instead, he threw it to the ground and used his saber. However, the man whose pike Giulio had taken was already behind him. Their mission was not to kill every man they saw, at least not yet. It was to sow as much chaos and disorder as possible in the imperial camp to give the Catholic infantry, soon to emerge from the Cittadella, the time it needed to form up and begin its own attack. Already, Giulio heard the distant booming of the Tuscan and Austrian guns from the walls of the suburb.

Giulio soon set his sights on a brightly dressed and well armored man shouting commands at the others around him. An officer, thought the prince, a worthy first kill. He spurred his horse toward the man, raising his saber for a strike. However, his foe, as if by instinct, whirled around and parried the blow. The prince rode past him, as he was supposed to. However, this time he wheeled his charger around. He spurred the beast toward the Bohemian officer, noticing the scarlet lion rampant on the man’s breastplate. Giulio closed the distance quickly and prepared to strike again. At the last moment, the Bohemian sidestepped onto the other side of Giulio’s horse and delivered a horizontal slash at his left side. The sword glanced off Giulio’s greave but bit deep into the side of his charger. The animal let out a horrifying cry as it collapsed. The prince threw himself free of the horse and landed in the mud.

Giulio got awkwardly onto his feet. After being in the saddle for hours as he had been, the first few steps were always a bit of a challenge. His foe, the Bohemian officer, had no such issue, and was quickly upon him. Giulio parried the enemy’s first blow and then quickly countered with one of his own, which the officer deftly swatted away. The prince could tell his nemesis was likely a nobleman, trained in swordsmanship from a young age much as he had been. Giulio could see that the man wore a maddened smile under his helmet. He said something in Czech. Giulio could only make out one word: “Medici”. Does he know who I am? he thought to himself. Before he could think on it any further, the officer attacked with a series of vicious strikes that sent Giulio stumbling backwards. As he blocked the last of the blows, he slipped and landed on his rear in the mud, his saber falling out of his hand. Before he could reach it, the officer swung down with what was meant to be a killing blow. Giulio rolled out of the way and then swept his leg into the man’s knee, causing him to fall with a grunt. In the background, the agonized shrieks of Giulio’s dying horse lent a surreal horror to the situation.

Giulio sprung toward his foe desperately, smashing an armored fist into the side of his enemy’s helmet, causing it to topple off his head. The officer was dazed but managed to grab hold of Giulio’s torso, sending the both of them tumbling further into the churned-up earth. As the pair clawed and swung and wrestled with each other, the prince managed to roll on top.

Giulio finally got a look at his adversary’s face. He was young also, perhaps of an age with the prince. The officer’s long, loose blonde curls, now matted with mud, stuck to the sides of his face, his pale blue eyes filled with a mixture of fear and hatred. The imperialist grasped frantically at Giulio’s face, pulling his helmet off as well. Giulio felt the man’s hand grasping for something at his hip. A dagger! Giulio realized. His first instinct was to try and stop this gambit by grasping his foe’s hand. However, the prince soon settled for a more direct and brutal solution. He cocked back his fist and punched down, his golden gauntlet smashing his foe’s teeth. At that moment, the Bohemian got his dagger loose and pulled it up, stabbing it toward Giulio’s throat. The prince blocked the strike with his left arm and then landed another strong punch to the officer’s face. Then another. Then another. Then another. Within moments the man’s once handsome face was a bloody ruin, his blood and brains oozing into the dark mud.

For a moment, all the prince could do was stare. I did that, he thought to himself, I am damned for eternity. He felt strange. He could not tell if he was about to burst into tears or begin to retch. Perhaps it was both. In the end, the retching came first. He emptied the contents of his stomach into the mud, near where his dead enemy’s blood and brains were leaking. The sight only made the prince sicker, and he vomited again. Then, he buried his face in his armored hands and began to sob. He lost track of how long he stayed there, sobbing over the dead young man beneath him. It could have been mere seconds or it could have been an eternity. Only the call of a familiar voice brought him back to reality.

“Your Grace!” shouted the voice of Colonna.

Giulio turned. His lieutenant was there along with six other riders. “Severino!” replied Giulio feebly but full of relief. Had the men seen him? he wondered, momentarily forgetting the dead Bohemian officer and thinking only of the necessity for his own good military bearing, they can’t see me in this state.

“We feared that we’d lost Your Grace,” continued Colonna, “we expected to be looking for a corpse.”

For some unexplained reason, this caused Giulio to laugh out loud. He then rose gingerly as pain shot through his left leg. That officer’s first strike may have been a glancing blow, but it was still strong enough to have cut through the armor on his legs and blood now ran down toward his boots. The prince looked over at his dead horse, the one that the pretty daughter of the Medici stable master had handpicked for him the last time they saw each other. “He’s the strongest and the prettiest,” she’d told him, a hint of pride behind her shy, pretty smile. Her name was Pia, and now she was just a vision from another time and another place. Giulio stood over the creature and said a quiet prayer for it.

“Your Grace,” came the voice of Colonna again, more of a question this time.

Giulio turned to him. “I need to find a new horse,” he said grimly. He pointed to the dead beast before him, “this one is dead.”

______________________________________________________

Giulio dé Medici sat on a wooden crate in the center of the Bohemian camp, staring at the ground. Next to him, his lieutenant, Colonna, was cleaning and sharpening his own sword. The prince’s mind was racing through the events of the past few hours on repeat. After the first Bohemian officer he’d killed, there were several more men whose lives he took. The prince’s lieutenant found him a new horse, which allowed him to rejoin the battle. The imperialists had mounted a stand at the center of the camp, and there he killed another two men, both foot soldiers of what appeared to be peasant stock. The fourth man whose life he extinguished was another officer, this time on horseback, who sought to shield the retreat of the Bohemian general Lvovic. This one he got with a well aimed shot of his wheellock pistol. Another three he cut down as he and his men hacked their way through the retreating enemy, showing little mercy. Seven men. Seven lives he had destroyed. By what right? he though to himself, by what right do I take lives that belong to the Lord? There was no good answer. Since the battle had begun to die down, all anyone around him seemed able to say was how brilliant he was. Colonna, stoic as always, simply informed the prince that the day looked to be a success. Severino was the one truly suited for command. He was of the same cloth as Campofregoso, cold and machinelike when it came to matters of war. Giulio, despite what he had once dreamed for himself, did not think he was cut out for the business. The horse had been the worst of all. He still heard the animal shrieking inside his head, as if it were cursing him for leading it to its death.

Giulio heard two sets of footsteps approaching, which caused him to look up. Giorgio Gonzaga and Federico Boncompagni stopped a few paces away.

“The day is ours Your Grace,” said Gonzaga, smiling brightly, his silvered armor spattered with blood.

“They’re going to sing songs about you,” added Federico ecstatically. His armor was bloodied as well, but as if to one up Gonzaga, he also had his left arm in a cloth sling. Giulio looked at the arm. As if reading his mind, Federico answered the unasked question, “took a pike through the shoulder.” The Neapolitan beamed proudly.

Giulio rubbed his head with his right hand. He’d taken two wounds himself, both from shot. The first was to his side, which still burned whenever he moved his upper body, and the second was a graze to his neck. Despite his newly discovered dislike of killing, he still felt dutybound to his men. Part of that duty was to remain stalwart even when wounded to avoid spreading panic among the ranks. Still, he also resented the loose, happy talk of the two officers. Gonzaga and Boncompagni were going on about the battle, how they had “totally routed” the “heretic cowards.” All Giulio could think of was that first Bohemian officer he’d killed with his own hands. Was he a coward? Giulio asked bitterly in his mind. He knew the answer. Chances were, most of the men who died that day on the Protestant side, indeed even most of the men who fled, were not cowards.

Shut up!” Giulio burst out at the two, causing them to fall instantly quiet.

“What’s wrong Giulio?” asked Federico, warily, “you should be happy.”

“Happy?” shot back the prince, “why the hell would I be happy!?”

“Your Grace, we won,” replied Gonzaga in what came off as a patronizing tone.

Giulio swept his arm across the devastated former encampment “Oh yes, a glorious victory,” he said with bitter sarcasm, “look around at your glory.” However, to his sudden embarrassment, Giulio realized a group of about a dozen foot soldiers had stopped to watch the three men. To make matters worse, Carlo Cercignani and two of his officers rode up at that very moment.

Cercignani looked at Giulio then at the other two. “What’s going on here?” he asked. Federico and Gonzaga just shrugged and shook their heads. Cercignani turned to Giulio. “Your Grace, may I have a word?” Giulio nodded sullenly. Cercignani turned and began walking away, toward the eastern side of the camp. The prince trudged quickly through the mud to catch up. “May I speak freely Your Grace?” the older man asked. The prince nodded. “In the past, you told me how you studied the works of past military commanders, to include the late General Terreni.” Giulio again nodded in agreement. “Well,” continued Cercignani, “I served under Terreni, and he, like our current commander, was a stern and hard man. Some are like that both outside and within. But not all commanders have such a constitution. I ask Your Grace, aside from our own conversations, what do you know of me? Of my reputation?”

Giulio was surprised by the question. Cercignani was one of the heroes Giulio had grown up dreaming to emulate. “You—you’re a hero. Everyone knows that. You came up with the great Rhenish campaign, you—”

“Yet I’ve never felt like a hero,” said Cercignani, cutting him off. “Every battle, every night on campaign, is a struggle for me. The campaign along the Rhine was one long nightmare. I barely slept. All I could think of was how my ideas, my decisions, my actions, led to untold suffering. Sure, I tried to justify them by saying it was duty, or in the service of a good cause, or what have you. And those things may have been true, may be true still. But they do not wipe away the horror.” The veteran soldier stopped and looked at the prince. “It is written all over your face that you are feeling the same things, am I wrong?”

Giulio nodded in reply.

“The problem is that I can see them,” Cercignani continued, “you may be younger than me and this may have been your first battle, but you are my prince. No matter how many battles we have seen, every man in this army must be able to look to you as a rock. Unflappable. Even General Campofregoso. There are many privileges that come with being a prince, but there are many duties as well. You must learn to love both the easy and the hard. You told me several times that you grew up wanting to be a soldier. I hope you have now discovered that it is not about glory and swashbuckling adventure. It’s about suffering in the muck. Well, now that you know, you must adjust. You, Your Grace, must bear the greatest of the suffering. You may not be the commander of this army, but you must be its moral leader. It is your family’s arms that we carry upon our banner. These men, from the general down to the lowliest private soldier, fight and die for your dynasty. You owe it to them to be there doing it at their side.”

“What if I can’t do it?” Giulio asked, feeling as if he were on the brink of tears.

“You can,” replied Cercignani. “I know your father well, I have fought alongside him, and I cannot imagine a better example for you. There is a reason the Grand Duke is so beloved among the ranks. He does exactly what I just described. He is the rock of his army. And as a result, they fight like madmen for him. There is a reason that army has been able smash its way into southern France and have its way with the Valois garrisons, and it begins with your father and his leadership. Look to his example and you will not fail.”

Giulio nodded, wiping his eyes and hoping Cercignani did not notice.

“One more thing Your Grace,” said the older man. Giulio looked at him. “You must hold your friends close and keep their confidence,” he went on. “Boncompagni and Gonzaga, they love you like a brother. Do not belittle them or yell at them, do not make them feel small. You will need them more than once before this war is over, whether in battle or in the dark moments afterward when you feel all hope is lost.” Cercignani paused, “did you know that Boncompagni took it upon himself to ride with his small force into the enemy camp and light their powder stores?”

The explosions! Giulio realized. He had nearly forgotten the explosions at the beginning of the charge. “That was Federico?” he asked.

Cercignani nodded. “He and his men snuck into the camp and set them alight just as he heard you sound the charge.” After a moment he added, “you have good and loyal friends, do not ever forget that.” The veteran looked at the prince. “I will leave you Your Grace, take some time to reflect. Then, when you are ready, go back to your friends and talk with them, laugh with them, share a meal with them. Then talk to your men, as many as you can. Absorb their experiences. But for now, take a moment to reflect for yourself. This is going to be a long and hard campaign, and it has only just begun.” The older officer paused and looked Giulio over. “Ah, I have yet one more thing Your Grace,” he said, a smirk now on his face, “Her Highness the Archduchess of Austria demanded your presence upon your return to the city.” With that, Carlo Cercignani turned and walked away back toward the group they’d left behind.

Giulio dé Medici looked up at the sky. He felt strengthened by the veteran commander’s words. He also was very interested to know what Maria Theresa wanted with his “presence”. If an illustrious warrior like him could share the same feelings, maybe it would all be alright. The prince looked down at his blood-covered gauntlets then said a quiet prayer. For the men who died. For the men he’d killed. For his horse. Then he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and adjusted his armor.

When Giulio returned to where Federico and Gonzaga were standing, now joined by another several officers, to include the hulking mass of Girolamo Riario-Sforza, they all looked at him warily. “Your Grace,” said Gonzaga tentatively. Federico fidgeted nervously. The prince clasped a hand on his shoulder.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was you who blew the Bohemian powder?” said Giulio, putting on a smile. Federico’s expression instantly turned into one of relief.

“Well it was a close call,” began Federico excitedly, “see, we were being stealthy but then this oaf went and fell off his horse.” He pointed to Sforza who shot back a menacing look. “The crash was so loud we were sure the whole camp would know. A couple of sentries did try to stop us but this Sforza goon made up for his fall by smashing their heads in with a hatchet. Then after that we were pretty much free to do as we wanted.”

“Well I guess we all owe you our gratitude,” said Giulio, “me above all.”

“Any time brother,” replied Federico, smiling, “it’s the least I can do for my prince.”
 
Last edited:

Casko

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The way you wrote Giulio's first kill was simply horridly fabulous, as well as the talk after the fight. and as always this AAR is simply fabulous as well.
 

Nikolai

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I think I may be repeating myself, but what an amazing update! You always manage to get your characters to seem alive, with all their flaws and virtues.:)
 

Bullfilter

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Historical Vignette 19: Fire and Mud, 21-22 February 1596


Mantua in 1596

Prince Giulio dé Medici and Federico Boncompagni strode through the early morning fog to the gates of the Palazzo Bonacolsi, on the opposite side of Piazza San Pietro from Mantua’s Ducal Palace. The two young men were brimming with confidence. They had a plan. All the top ranking officers of the Armata del Nord as well as their Austrian counterparts were going to the Palazzo Bonacolsi. That was where General Pietro di Campofregoso made his headquarters and, on that evening, he had called a meeting. Giulio and Federico were among the first to arrive. They made their way through the frescoed halls and entered the main ballroom, which served as the general’s war room. Maps of northern Italy and the Alps hung about the place along with studies of the bridges around Matua.


The fog in Piazza San Pietro

The general was not present, but his second in command and top infantry officer, Carlo Cercignani, was. Also in the room were two Austrian officers and a young woman wearing men’s breeches and a dark leather tunic. Her hair was so blonde it appeared to be almost white. Why was she dressed that way? Was she a camp follower? Giulio wondered, looking her over. The general, being the religious man that he was, would never tolerate a whore in his own headquarters, even if she accompanied allied officers. The group was engaged in an animated discussion in French. When Cercignani saw the pair come through the door he stopped and switched back to Italian.

“You two are on time,” he said wryly, “this can only mean that there has been a catastrophe or that you have come up with something you think is smart.”

“Let us hope it is a catastrophe then,” the woman broke in, giggling before they could answer. Her Italian pronunciation was good but her accent gave her away as a German speaker. Giulio fixed his gaze on her. Suddenly, it dawned on him who she was. However, before he could do or say anything, Federico’s voice rang out.

“Smart mouth you’ve got, girl,” he said in that exaggerated, cocky tone he put on when he thought he was going to say something clever, “but I’ve got something here you can use it on too.” He pointed lewdly at his crotch.

Before Giulio even had the time to yell at his friend, the two Austrian officers were on him. One of them had drawn his sword but the other hadn’t even bothered. He speared Federico into the ground and straddled the Italian’s midsection, choking him out. The officer was bellowing something angrily in German. Gulio had not, at first, realized just how large this man was. Across the room Cercignani stood there, his face buried in his hands, shaking his head. The young woman was laughing and the other Austrian officer seemed content to let his colleague do the work. Giulio debated whether he should step in to help his friend but then decided against it.

The young woman shouted something in German and the Austrian officer released Federico, who began instantly gasping for breath. As he stood the Austrian kicked Federico in the ribs and growled what could have been nothing other than a particularly vile insult.

Giulio walked over to help his friend up. He felt bad for letting him take a beating. Still, a beating was the least Federico deserved for propositioning oral sex to the Archduchess of Austria.


Federico Boncompagni
______________________________________________________

By the time the last of the Austrian and Tuscan officers filed into the ballroom, the story about Federico had already made the rounds. Most of their fellow Tuscan officers made good natured jests and laughed at the bruises on Federico’s face and neck. Their Austrian counterparts, on the other hand just glowered at him darkly. The raucous atmosphere in the room quieted down immediately when General Campofregoso walked in. He strode to the center table upon which lay a large map of Mantua and the surrounding country. Next to the general stood his confessor and the Armata del Po’s senior chaplain, Father Baldassare Rigoli of the Society of Jesus. The priest opened the war council as the officers of the army did every meeting: with a blessing and prayer.

Once that was concluded, Campofregoso looked around. “I know many of you are angered by what happened at Ghisiolo yesterday,” he began in his usual gruff voice. He wore a black mantle fastened onto his shoulders by a buckle with the Medici coat of arms on the right and one with the Campofregoso coat of arms, bearing a black ram rampant with white horns on a gold field, on the left. He took a long pause, during which no other man dared break the silence. “Like many of you, I had the honor to serve under the great Giuseppe Terreni,” he began again, “and he taught me that emotional decisions are rash decisions and that rash decisions get your army destroyed and you killed. There will be no rash decisions.” He swept his gaze around the room. “That being said,” he continued, “if any of you have a plan to strike back at these vile Protestants, I will hear it now.”


The Ghisiolo Massacre

Federico looked at Giulio. The prince took a deep breath and stood. “General,” he said loudly. The whole room turned to look at him. The prince could hear murmurs in the crowd. He took another deep breath. “General, we believe there is a way to outflank the enemy and fall upon his rear so—”

“Who is ‘we’, Your Grace?” asked the general, cutting him off.

Giulio looked at Federico, who in turn lowered his gaze. “Federico Boncompagni and I,” replied Giulio.

“Oh, the man who cannot even maintain the discipline of his tongue before Her Highness the Archduchess?” boomed Goffredo della Valle. A sharp look from Campofregoso silenced his laughter immediately, much to Giulio’s relief.

“Captain Boncompagni disgraced himself today before our most pious and Catholic guest, Her Highness the Archduchess Maria Theresa,” said the general, glowering at Federico, “and for that I am sure he will make the proper atonement, as is becoming an officer and nobleman of this army.” Giulio felt bad for Federico. Surely “proper atonement” in the mind of General Boncompagni meant something physically or emotionally painful. “And,” the general went on, “if she deems him worthy of her consideration, let alone her pity, Her Highness may eventually forgive him. That being said, and with all due respect to Her Highness, our fellow officer’s social ignorance and ineptitude do not necessarily affect his ability to make sound tactical and strategic judgments. Go on.”

“Thank you General,” said Giulio. “Today, three peasants came to our camp and told us they knew of a way through the swamps of the Mincio, upriver from Mantua. We can use this way to flank around and fall upon the enemy’s rear.”

Giulio’s statement sent murmurs through the crowd of assembled officers. “How long will it take to move our whole army through the swamps?” asked Sigismondo Piccolimini, “if we are discovered they will cut us to pieces as we wade through the muck.” Some of the other men raised their voices in agreement.

“Not the whole army,” replied Giulio, “just the cavalry. We can send them through the swamp and then they will ride around and strike the imperial camp before dawn.”

“You mean to destroy the Bohemian army with 2,000 horse?” asked an incredulous Emmanuele Montefeltro. “I consider myself a skilled horseman,” he added, “but not so skilled I can defeat an enemy that outnumbers me fifteen to one.” That sent a wave of laughs through the crowd.

“No,” said Giulio, “I was not finished. As the cavalry attacks the rear of the camp, the guns in the Cittadella will open up on the near side of the camp, sowing confusion and chaos. Finally, once the enemy is in disarray, we open the gates and send out the infantry to destroy them.”

Giulio looked around and saw that some of the men were nodding in agreement. At least he had some support.

“I disagree with this plan,” said Piccolimini rising, “with all due respect Your Grace, to send the entirety of our already small mounted force out on this mission is asking for disaster. I say we hold our ground and let the Protestants break themselves against our walls.”

After Piccolimini, several other officers rose to echo his point. Giulio sighed, this was not going well.

“Gentlemen,” said a voice breaking through the crowd. It belonged to Carlo Cercignani. “We can stay here and let them continue their siege. Perhaps they fail to break through. But what happens elsewhere? We are not the only ones in this war. Our Grand Duke is campaigning in France, with one army alone against numberless foes. Our Austrian brothers here among us have to wake up each morning knowing that their homeland is under the boot of the heretic Emperor and his legions. We can stay here, yes, behind the walls of this great fortress, but if we do so, we fail our friends. I say this is a moment for a bold strike. Not because we are angry at our foes’ depredations. Not because we seek glory for its own sake. But because it is the soundest move from a strategic perspective. This is a European war and we must think beyond our own line of sight and up to a higher level. How long can the Armata del Nord fight alone against the King of France and the Prince of Orange? How long must our Austrian brothers and sisters of the faith live under the rule of a heretical tyrant? These are the questions we must ask ourselves if we choose to stay behind our walls. I say we ride out to meet them. If His Grace’s plan succeeds, we can very well break the imperial army and rid Italy of her once and for all.” When Cercignani finished, a loud cheer went up in the room.

“I agree with Colonel Cercignani,” said a voice speaking in Italian with a thick Germanic accent. It was Georg von Waldstein, the Austrian commander. “These officers show boldness, boldness that can give us victory,” he shouted to the crowd. Giulio bristled at being referred to as “these officers” by one of his social inferiors. Especially one whose greatest military achievement was preventing his army from disintegrating after being dealt defeat after defeat on his own home soil. The rumor going around the camp that he was a frequent invitee to the Archduchess’s bedchamber certainly did not help him gain esteem in the prince’s mind either. Still, he was supporting the plan. The room was full of loud talking now, all the men voicing their opinions.

Campofregoso waved his hands and suddenly it all went quiet again. “Your Grace,” said the general, “show me on the map what you and your friend mean to do.” Giulio walked over to the large table and illustrated for the old general how he intended for the attack to work. The commander pondered the idea. Finally, after what felt like an eternal silence, he said: “very well.” Giulio was unsure if he was simply acknowledging that he understood the plan or if the general had just accepted the proposal. His question was answered quickly however. “Brief the other officers and then go prepare your men, you will be leading this little expedition.”

“Me?” asked Giulio slightly incredulous.

“My apologies Your Grace,” said Campofregoso, “I meant to say His Grace the Prince of Orvieto will be leading the attack. Are there any questions?” Giulio could not tell if the general was being sarcastic or not. Neither his face nor voice gave anything away.

Giulio turned to the assembled crowd, all of them focused in on him. You are a Medici Prince, he told himself gathering up his courage, this is your destiny. He glanced at the map and rapidly reviewed the plan in his mind. “Gentlemen,” he began, “my plan is this…”


Giulio de Medici, Prince of Orvieto
______________________________________________________

By the time the details of the plan were fleshed out and all questions had been answered it was early afternoon. Giulio rubbed his eyes, still not really believing his plan had been accepted. He was eager to go prepare his men for the important mission. He bid farwell to Wolfgang Stralsund, one of the Austrian cavalry officers and nodded to Federico that they should go. His friend got up and began heading for the door.

“Medici!” came the gravelly voice of General Campofregoso. Giulio looked longingly at the door in front of him, wishing he could just run through it. Federico looked at him and shrugged. Giulio replied with a slight head shake followed by a nearly imperceptible nod toward the door. His friend smiled gratefully and kept moving toward the exit. Giulio turned and went back to the center of the room.

Around the large dark wood table in the center stood three Italians: the General, Sigismondo Montefeltro the Duke of Urbino, and Carlo Cercignani. There were also two Austrians: Georg von Waldstein and the Archduchess Maria Theresa I von Habsburg. Behind her, along the wall, stood several handmaidens and servants attending her.

“The Archduchess would like to speak with you alone,” said Campofregoso in a tone that indicated he was not too happy about that. Leaving aside any other issues of social and military rank, the simplest reason the general was unhappy is that he looked with disapproval at his men mingling with any women who were not their wives or direct family. To let an unmarried pair speak alone in his own headquarters room, regardless of who the pair might be, must have truly upset him. Nevertheless, the word of the Archduchess of Austria trumped that of a Tuscan general from a minor noble family every time, even in the Po Valley. “Be sure you mind your courtesies,” he grumbled, “unlike that Neapolitan savage you call a friend.” He gestured for Cercignani and Montefeltro to follow him and swept out of the room.

Maria Theresa looked at Giulio then turned her head. “Leave Us,” she said loudly, the servants bowed and immediately made for the exits. Waldstein remained, leaning cockily against the wooden table. “So Medici, you must be—”

“You too, General,” said Maria Theresa, cutting off Waldstein’s statement. It looked as if he was about to protest, but he thought better of it, bowed, and slowly made his way toward the door. He did shoot a suspicious glance at Giulio before stalking away.

“How—how may I be of service Your Highness,” asked Giulio, unsure of himself. The Archduchess was an attractive young lady, even in her masculine attire. Maria Theresa was only sixteen years old, five years younger than Giulio was, but she carried herself like a fully-grown woman.

“You can speak with me like a normal person,” she replied, “I never get to be a normal person. I’m always Maria Theresa I, titles, titles, titles.” She gave Giulio a warm smile, “but with you, since we’re cousins and nearly of the same social rank, I can just be a girl.” It was true, the two shared a common ancestor in Cesare dé Medici, whose eldest daughter, Margherita, married the Emperor Maximilian I while his son, Francesco Stefano, became the second Grand Duke of Tuscany.


Maria Theresa I von Habsburg, Archduchess of Austria

“My friend did not mean offense, Your Highness,” said Giulio referring to Federico.

“What did I say? Spare me the Highnesses,” she replied, waving her hand. She propped herself up on the edge of the table, dangling her slender legs off the side. “I know he meant no offense,” she continued, “he probably took me for a prostitute or some such woman dressed as I am.”

Giulio laughed, trying to relax, “why are you dressed like that?”

“I was walking the walls,” she replied, as if it were the most natural and self-explanatory thing in the world. “I can’t do that very well in a gown.”

“Why?” the prince asked, puzzled, “you have officers to do that.”

She sighed and looked at her feet as if this was the most irritating question possible. “When you have been on campaign as I have,” she said, “you will learn that men need to be motivated to be good fighters.”

Giulio shot Maria Theresa a skeptical look in reply to her claims of campaign experience. “Did I touch a nerve, warrior prince?” The Archduchess gave him a sly smile and poked his leg with the tip of her riding boot.

Giulio shrugged and stepped back out of reach of her legs. “Sure, if you call a headlong retreat from your own homeland a ‘campaign’.”

“Call it what you will,” she said becoming serious, “there are many disadvantages to being a woman and a sovereign. One of the advantages seems to be that men are more inclined to die for a lady, particularly one they find attractive, than for a man. It’s all very romantic.”

Giulio studied her a moment, then smirked. “Well cousin,” he said, “word in the camp is that you are particularly good at motivating a certain general.”

The Archduchess laughed out loud. “If you are referring to the vile rumors about General von Waldstein and me, they are none of your men’s concern.” She pushed some strands of her white-blonde hair off her forehead. “But between us cousins, like I said, I am human.”

“You could have picked a more militarily competent lover,” said Giulio rubbing his chin.

“Don’t sell him short,” she shot back, “he’s demonstrated a great deal of skill.”

“On the battlefield?” asked Giulio mockingly, “or in your bed?”

Maria Theresa stood up and took a few steps toward him. She roughly grabbed Giulio’s collar and pulled his face close to hers. “You forget yourself Giulio dé Medici,” the Archduchess said in a low, menacing voice, “don’t mistake Our kindness for weakness. Many have done so already during Our short reign and have regretted it.” Giulio knew it was bad news since she began referring to herself in the first-person plural. “You are still just a second son with no great achievement of your own. We are the ruler of a great power from one of the greatest dynasties to have ever existed. You will remember that when you speak to Us. Do you understand?”

Giulio was taken aback at the change in her mood. “Ye-Yes Your Highness,” he stammered.

“Good boy,” she said, flashing a satisfied smile. The Archduchess let go of Giulio’s collar and lowered her hands to his chest. “Well I hope now you have a burning desire to get back into the good graces of your ally’s sovereign.”

Giulio nodded meekly. He was in no way inexperienced with women, but he had also never been in a situation where the woman could assert her authority over him.

“Another good answer cousin,” Maria Theresa replied to his nod. She rolled her fingers into fists, gripped his shirt, and moved Giulio along with her back to the table. She sat back on the edge, legs apart, and pulled the prince between them. She grabbed the back of his head with her right hand and put his cheek against her own. The Archduchess whispered into his ear, slowly, clearly: “We want you to kill every last one of those Protestant bastards. We want you to make them suffer. We want revenge for their taking of Our capital.” Then she pushed him away. “Now run along little soldier,” she said condescendingly, “before your commander gets angry with you. If you lose tomorrow morning, I do not expect to see you again, cousin. But, if you do win and you survive, come see me and we can revisit the topic of my lovers’ military competence.” She waved her hand dismissively, “you may go now.”

Giulio bowed, “Your Highness.” He took three steps backward before turning around and heading for the door. He walked quickly, trying to make sense of the encounter.

“Oh Giulio,” came the Archduchess’s voice.

The prince stopped and turned, “yes Your Highness?”

“That,” she replied, hands on her hips, “was me instilling motivation.”

______________________________________________________


The swamps along the Mincio River

Giulio dé Medici felt the fetid water sloshing around inside his boots. After several dips into the marshes of the Mincio, they were filled and he knew there was little hope of changing his socks before he and his men had to give battle. He sighed and rubbed his temple. The upward movement of his arm caused the upper end of his breastplate to scrape against his neck, which at this point was nearly rubbed raw. They don’t mention that in the stories, Giulio thought bitterly to himself, the hero never has to worry about chafing from his armor or getting himself tangled in the sling of his weapons or getting saddle sores. Giulio decided right then and there that if he survived the war, he would make up a realistic martial story, one where the majority of the hero’s time is spent dealing with blisters and rashes and lice. That was another one, apparently when on campaign lice did not seem to care if one was a peasant or the son of the Grand Duke.

Ahead of him, Giulio could see the slumped backs of the three peasant fishermen who were leading him on this ludicrous venture. It had been Federico’s idea to talk to them. “They spend all their time in these waters,” he said to Giulio, “they surely know all of the secrets of the area.” Sure enough, it was a good idea, and the men agreed, after the promise of some money and benefits, to show them the way.

Giulio had to admit that Federico had always been the better tactical thinker. Just like his cousin Alessandro was the better swordsman and Leo had the better mind for politics. Giulio could always hold his own with them, but never quite measured up. There was the added fact that despite being the “best” of them from the point of view of social status, Giulio was always a sort of outcast with his friends. His cousin Alessandro was also the son of a Grand Duke, Filippo I, but his mother was an Abyssinian servant woman, thereby making him a bastard. He had never even been allowed to wear the name Medici until Giulio’s father bestowed it upon Alessandro as thanks for foiling the Duke of Ferrara’s Bologna Plot. Federico came to the Medici household as a hostage, held to ensure that his older brother Alfonso, former Duke of Caserta and claimant to the kingship of Naples, no longer troubled the realm. Finally, Leo and his sister came to the family as orphans after their father, Guglielmo Gattilusio, was killed at the Battle of Parma in 1580. All the boys had grown up together, but as a “Prince of Tuscany” Giulio always stood somewhat apart from the other three. He knew that he enjoyed privileges they would never know, yet the distance these created between him and his friends always left him feeling somewhat alone.

Of course, one of those privileges was that people listened to him. After the peasants promised to show them the way through the swamp, Giulio and Federico had hatched their plan to flank around the rear of the Bohemian army and hit them as they slept.

Giulio’s thoughts were interrupted by the feeling of his horse’s hooves landing on solid ground. “We are out of the swamp, my Prince,” the peasant named Lomello whispered back over his shoulder. Giulio nodded and turned around to see his men following behind him. Once they were all out of the swamp he wanted to change the formation so they were no longer single file. He had about 2,000 cavalrymen with him, mostly Tuscans with a smattering of Austrians. Assured his men were still following, Giulio gestured to Federico, riding right behind him, to come along then spurred his horse up toward the three peasants at the front of the column.

“How far to the forest?” Giulio asked them as they rode along. Lomello, the largest of the three rode his own donkey, while the other two, Pierino and Lizzo, rode together on a second animal.

“We will cross into the open for a short way then enter the forest my Prince,” replied Pierino, “we’ll show you.”

“How far in the open?” Giulio asked. The moon was nearly full and the illumination that night was high. This had been great as they were crossing the swamps, but now that they were going to be crossing open fields it suddenly became a danger. All it would take was a Bohemian scouting party or even just some freebooters to sound the alarm, raise the Czech camp, and then Giulio and the entirety of the Austro-Tuscan cavalry would be cut off on the wrong side of the river.

Pierino shrugged and looked to Lomello. The big peasant shrugged as well. “Not too far,” he said.

Giulio looked at Federico. His Neapolitan friend was smiling. “Not wanting to run into the Emperor’s men tonight?” he asked chuckling.

“Yes, I’d rather avoid meeting their guns while half our men are still mucking their way through the swamp.”

“Give me twenty men,” said Federico confidently, “we’ll ride out from here and screen the main body’s movement to the east, looking out for scouts or any other Czech or German pains in the ass. If we see them we’ll start shooting and whooping and you’ll be sure to hear us.”

Giulio thought about it. “Do you know who you want to take?”

Federico flashed Giulio one of his trademark wicked smiles, “yeah, get me Sforza and his cronies, I have something in mind for once we get into the shit.”


______________________________________________________

The deployment into line of battle at the edge of the forest went smoother than Giulio dé Medici had expected. He had his subordinate officers to thank for that. It was their duty to follow his orders, he knew that. Still, most of them had multiple battles and campaigns in their past while he, a prince, was still unblooded. Even the Archduchess of Austria had reminded him of that. Nevertheless, they gave him their full faith and confidence. He could not let them down.


The forest of the Fontana

The entire host was drawn up two ranks deep on the edge of the tree line of the Fontana forest. To the east lay the imperialist camp. “When Your Grace is ready,” said Severino Colonna, “I can sound the attack.”

Giulio looked left and right down the line. He could not see very far in the still dark morning. The prince put on his helmet and buckled it. He whispered a quiet prayer to the Virgin asking for her protection for him and his men. Though he would never admit to it, Giulio was nervous and scared. Buckling his helmet, an action he had performed countless times throughout his life, was made difficult by his trembling hands. “Sound the attack,” he said finally, trying to keep his voice steady.

Colonna picked up his horn and let out three long blasts. Within seconds, other horns down both sides of the line echoed the call. Now the Bohemian sentries would know they were there, Giulio just hoped it was too late for them to respond effectively. The prince spurred his horse full on ahead, the big charger picking up speed quickly. No turning back now, he thought to himself grimly. The sky was getting lighter, which meant that soon enough they would be fighting into the rising sun. For the moment however, the world was still a deep blue-gray. To the prince’s left and right his fellow cavalrymen, nearly the entire mounted strength of the Austro-Tuscan army, thundered ahead. For a moment, Giulio dé Medici closed his eyes, feeling the cool wind whipping across his face and up into his helmet. He took in the moment, a moment he had dreamed of since he was a young boy: his first taste of battle. Moments earlier, he’d been dreading it, rethinking his entire desire to be a soldier. Now, with his men riding alongside, it seemed the greatest thing in all the world.

Suddenly, the prince’s thoughts were ripped back to the present moment by a large explosion to his front right. That one was followed several seconds later by another two, all in the same vicinity. For a moment, Giulio’s heart thundered with a feeling of dread. They’ve brought their cannons to bear against us, he thought, horrified. Then, he saw the smoke and flame rising directly into the sky. “Their powder kegs!” he shouted to nobody in particular. He spurred his horse on faster, the tents of the Protestant camp growing larger as the Catholic horse closed the distance. Darkened figures scurried about amongst them, running every which way.

As the formation of horse moved across the open field, they transitioned from two ranks into one, better to provide one massed volley into the first line of the enemy defense. By the time the movement was complete, the imperial camp was only a few hundred yards ahead. Giulio could now hear shouting and make out several loose groups of men, some wielding pikes but others seemingly unarmed, emerge from the mass of tents and try to form up. Giulio gripped his carbine and brought it up. The first line of resistance was to be met with fire from the mounted troops, and after that it would be sabers and pistols the rest of the way. When they were within one hundred yards of their foe, Giulio pumped his fist in the direction of Colonna. The lieutenant raised a red pennant high into the air. All around, the booming noise of firing carbines filled the air. Giulio squeezed the trigger on his own weapon, causing it to buck violently. In front of him, several enemy soldiers fell, but there was no way to tell if any were from his gun or from those of his comrades.

Giulio went to lower the carbine and draw his saber but the sling got caught on the shoulders of his gilded armor. The prince jerked the weapon to try and get it loose, but as he did so his horse jumped a ditch, causing the weapon to jump with it. The butt stock struck Giulio hard in the mouth. Enraged, he tore at the sling until it broke, and then he flung the weapon to the ground. As Giulio finally drew his saber, he tasted blood in his mouth from where the carbine split his lip. Some first battle wound, he thought bitterly to himself. There was not much time to reflect on the matter however, because as he looked up he realized he was nearly on top of the enemy. At that moment, a lead ball pinged off his breastplate. It was a close call, but his well-made armor saved him. The enemy formation was loosely packed and only two to three ranks deep. The men were haphazardly clad, with some in full armor and others barely dressed.

Palle! Palle!” (“Balls! Balls!”) roared the men of the Tuscan horse, using that beloved slogan that was both meant to honor the devices on the Medici coat of arms as well as the men’s own genitalia. Almost in unison, the mass of cavalry smashed into the flimsy defensive line, shattering it instantly. The first man Giulio encountered tried to run him through with a pike. The thrust was wild and out of control, passing across his body. The prince trapped it between his left arm and breastplate and wrenched it free. The soldier stumbled and fell face first into the mud. For half a second Giulio thought to use the man’s own pike against him, but it would have been an awkward and time-consuming move to turn it around and wield it. Instead, he threw it to the ground and used his saber. However, the man whose pike Giulio had taken was already behind him. Their mission was not to kill every man they saw, at least not yet. It was to sow as much chaos and disorder as possible in the imperial camp to give the Catholic infantry, soon to emerge from the Cittadella, the time it needed to form up and begin its own attack. Already, Giulio heard the distant booming of the Tuscan and Austrian guns from the walls of the suburb.

Giulio soon set his sights on a brightly dressed and well armored man shouting commands at the others around him. An officer, thought the prince, a worthy first kill. He spurred his horse toward the man, raising his saber for a strike. However, his foe, as if by instinct, whirled around and parried the blow. The prince rode past him, as he was supposed to. However, this time he wheeled his charger around. He spurred the beast toward the Bohemian officer, noticing the scarlet lion rampant on the man’s breastplate. Giulio closed the distance quickly and prepared to strike again. At the last moment, the Bohemian sidestepped onto the other side of Giulio’s horse and delivered a horizontal slash at his left side. The sword glanced off Giulio’s greave but bit deep into the side of his charger. The animal let out a horrifying cry as it collapsed. The prince threw himself free of the horse and landed in the mud.

Giulio got awkwardly onto his feet. After being in the saddle for hours as he had been, the first few steps were always a bit of a challenge. His foe, the Bohemian officer, had no such issue, and was quickly upon him. Giulio parried the enemy’s first blow and then quickly countered with one of his own, which the officer deftly swatted away. The prince could tell his nemesis was likely a nobleman, trained in swordsmanship from a young age much as he had been. Giulio could see that the man wore a maddened smile under his helmet. He said something in Czech. Giulio could only make out one word: “Medici”. Does he know who I am? he thought to himself. Before he could think on it any further, the officer attacked with a series of vicious strikes that sent Giulio stumbling backwards. As he blocked the last of the blows, he slipped and landed on his rear in the mud, his saber falling out of his hand. Before he could reach it, the officer swung down with what was meant to be a killing blow. Giulio rolled out of the way and then swept his leg into the man’s knee, causing him to fall with a grunt. In the background, the agonized shrieks of Giulio’s dying horse lent a surreal horror to the situation.

Giulio sprung toward his foe desperately, smashing an armored fist into the side of his enemy’s helmet, causing it to topple off his head. The officer was dazed but managed to grab hold of Giulio’s torso, sending the both of them tumbling further into the churned-up earth. As the pair clawed and swung and wrestled with each other, the prince managed to roll on top.

Giulio finally got a look at his adversary’s face. He was young also, perhaps of an age with the prince. The officer’s long, loose blonde curls, now matted with mud, stuck to the sides of his face, his pale blue eyes filled with a mixture of fear and hatred. The imperialist grasped frantically at Giulio’s face, pulling his helmet off as well. Giulio felt the man’s hand grasping for something at his hip. A dagger! Giulio realized. His first instinct was to try and stop this gambit by grasping his foe’s hand. However, the prince soon settled for a more direct and brutal solution. He cocked back his fist and punched down, his golden gauntlet smashing his foe’s teeth. At that moment, the Bohemian got his dagger loose and pulled it up, stabbing it toward Giulio’s throat. The prince blocked the strike with his left arm and then landed another strong punch to the officer’s face. Then another. Then another. Then another. Within moments the man’s once handsome face was a bloody ruin, his blood and brains oozing into the dark mud.

For a moment, all the prince could do was stare. I did that, he thought to himself, I am damned for eternity. He felt strange. He could not tell if he was about to burst into tears or begin to retch. Perhaps it was both. In the end, the retching came first. He emptied the contents of his stomach into the mud, near where his dead enemy’s blood and brains were leaking. The sight only made the prince sicker, and he vomited again. Then, he buried his face in his armored hands and began to sob. He lost track of how long he stayed there, sobbing over the dead young man beneath him. It could have been mere seconds or it could have been an eternity. Only the call of a familiar voice brought him back to reality.

“Your Grace!” shouted the voice of Colonna.

Giulio turned. His lieutenant was there along with six other riders. “Severino!” replied Giulio feebly but full of relief. Had the men seen him? he wondered, momentarily forgetting the dead Bohemian officer and thinking only of the necessity for his own good military bearing, they can’t see me in this state.

“We feared that we’d lost Your Grace,” continued Colonna, “we expected to be looking for a corpse.”

For some unexplained reason, this caused Giulio to laugh out loud. He then rose gingerly as pain shot through his left leg. That officer’s first strike may have been a glancing blow, but it was still strong enough to have cut through the armor on his legs and blood now ran down toward his boots. The prince looked over at his dead horse, the one that the pretty daughter of the Medici stable master had handpicked for him the last time they saw each other. “He’s the strongest and the prettiest,” she’d told him, a hint of pride behind her shy, pretty smile. Her name was Pia, and now she was just a vision from another time and another place. Giulio stood over the creature and said a quiet prayer for it.

“Your Grace,” came the voice of Colonna again, more of a question this time.

Giulio turned to him. “I need to find a new horse,” he said grimly. He pointed to the dead beast before him, “this one is dead.”

______________________________________________________

Giulio dé Medici sat on a wooden crate in the center of the Bohemian camp, staring at the ground. Next to him, his lieutenant, Colonna, was cleaning and sharpening his own sword. The prince’s mind was racing through the events of the past few hours on repeat. After the first Bohemian officer he’d killed, there were several more men whose lives he took. The prince’s lieutenant found him a new horse, which allowed him to rejoin the battle. The imperialists had mounted a stand at the center of the camp, and there he killed another two men, both foot soldiers of what appeared to be peasant stock. The fourth man whose life he extinguished was another officer, this time on horseback, who sought to shield the retreat of the Bohemian general Lvovic. This one he got with a well aimed shot of his wheellock pistol. Another three he cut down as he and his men hacked their way through the retreating enemy, showing little mercy. Seven men. Seven lives he had destroyed. By what right? he though to himself, by what right do I take lives that belong to the Lord? There was no good answer. Since the battle had begun to die down, all anyone around him seemed able to say was how brilliant he was. Colonna, stoic as always, simply informed the prince that the day looked to be a success. Severino was the one truly suited for command. He was of the same cloth as Campofregoso, cold and machinelike when it came to matters of war. Giulio, despite what he had once dreamed for himself, did not think he was cut out for the business. The horse had been the worst of all. He still heard the animal shrieking inside his head, as if it were cursing him for leading it to its death.

Giulio heard two sets of footsteps approaching, which caused him to look up. Giorgio Gonzaga and Federico Boncompagni stopped a few paces away.

“The day is ours Your Grace,” said Gonzaga, smiling brightly, his silvered armor spattered with blood.

“They’re going to sing songs about you,” added Federico ecstatically. His armor was bloodied as well, but as if to one up Gonzaga, he also had his left arm in a cloth sling. Giulio looked at the arm. As if reading his mind, Federico answered the unasked question, “took a pike through the shoulder.” The Neapolitan beamed proudly.

Giulio rubbed his head with his right hand. He’d taken two wounds himself, both from shot. The first was to his side, which still burned whenever he moved his upper body, and the second was a graze to his neck. Despite his newly discovered dislike of killing, he still felt dutybound to his men. Part of that duty was to remain stalwart even when wounded to avoid spreading panic among the ranks. Still, he also resented the loose, happy talk of the two officers. Gonzaga and Boncompagni were going on about the battle, how they had “totally routed” the “heretic cowards.” All Giulio could think of was that first Bohemian officer he’d killed with his own hands. Was he a coward? Giulio asked bitterly in his mind. He knew the answer. Chances were, most of the men who died that day on the Protestant side, indeed even most of the men who fled, were not cowards.

Shut up!” Giulio burst out at the two, causing them to fall instantly quiet.

“What’s wrong Giulio?” asked Federico, warily, “you should be happy.”

“Happy?” shot back the prince, “why the hell would I be happy!?”

“Your Grace, we won,” replied Gonzaga in what came off as a patronizing tone.

Giulio swept his arm across the devastated former encampment “Oh yes, a glorious victory,” he said with bitter sarcasm, “look around at your glory.” However, to his sudden embarrassment, Giulio realized a group of about a dozen foot soldiers had stopped to watch the three men. To make matters worse, Carlo Cercignani and two of his officers rode up at that very moment.

Cercignani looked at Giulio then at the other two. “What’s going on here?” he asked. Federico and Gonzaga just shrugged and shook their heads. Cercignani turned to Giulio. “Your Grace, may I have a word?” Giulio nodded sullenly. Cercignani turned and began walking away, toward the eastern side of the camp. The prince trudged quickly through the mud to catch up. “May I speak freely Your Grace?” the older man asked. The prince nodded. “In the past, you told me how you studied the works of past military commanders, to include the late General Terreni.” Giulio again nodded in agreement. “Well,” continued Cercignani, “I served under Terreni, and he, like our current commander, was a stern and hard man. Some are like that both outside and within. But not all commanders have such a constitution. I ask Your Grace, aside from our own conversations, what do you know of me? Of my reputation?”

Giulio was surprised by the question. Cercignani was one of the heroes Giulio had grown up dreaming to emulate. “You—you’re a hero. Everyone knows that. You came up with the great Rhenish campaign, you—”

“Yet I’ve never felt like a hero,” said Cercignani, cutting him off. “Every battle, every night on campaign, is a struggle for me. The campaign along the Rhine was one long nightmare. I barely slept. All I could think of was how my ideas, my decisions, my actions, led to untold suffering. Sure, I tried to justify them by saying it was duty, or in the service of a good cause, or what have you. And those things may have been true, may be true still. But they do not wipe away the horror.” The veteran soldier stopped and looked at the prince. “It is written all over your face that you are feeling the same things, am I wrong?”

Giulio nodded in reply.

“The problem is that I can see them,” Cercignani continued, “you may be younger than me and this may have been your first battle, but you are my prince. No matter how many battles we have seen, every man in this army must be able to look to you as a rock. Unflappable. Even General Campofregoso. There are many privileges that come with being a prince, but there are many duties as well. You must learn to love both the easy and the hard. You told me several times that you grew up wanting to be a soldier. I hope you have now discovered that it is not about glory and swashbuckling adventure. It’s about suffering in the muck. Well, now that you know, you must adjust. You, Your Grace, must bear the greatest of the suffering. You may not be the commander of this army, but you must be its moral leader. It is your family’s arms that we carry upon our banner. These men, from the general down to the lowliest private soldier, fight and die for your dynasty. You owe it to them to be there doing it at their side.”

“What if I can’t do it?” Giulio asked, feeling as if he were on the brink of tears.

“You can,” replied Cercignani. “I know your father well, I have fought alongside him, and I cannot imagine a better example for you. There is a reason the Grand Duke is so beloved among the ranks. He does exactly what I just described. He is the rock of his army. And as a result, they fight like madmen for him. There is a reason that army has been able smash its way into southern France and have its way with the Valois garrisons, and it begins with your father and his leadership. Look to his example and you will not fail.”

Giulio nodded, wiping his eyes and hoping Cercignani did not notice.

“One more thing Your Grace,” said the older man. Giulio looked at him. “You must hold your friends close and keep their confidence,” he went on. “Boncompagni and Gonzaga, they love you like a brother. Do not belittle them or yell at them, do not make them feel small. You will need them more than once before this war is over, whether in battle or in the dark moments afterward when you feel all hope is lost.” Cercignani paused, “did you know that Boncompagni took it upon himself to ride with his small force into the enemy camp and light their powder stores?”

The explosions! Giulio realized. He had nearly forgotten the explosions at the beginning of the charge. “That was Federico?” he asked.

Cercignani nodded. “He and his men snuck into the camp and set them alight just as he heard you sound the charge.” After a moment he added, “you have good and loyal friends, do not ever forget that.” The veteran looked at the prince. “I will leave you Your Grace, take some time to reflect. Then, when you are ready, go back to your friends and talk with them, laugh with them, share a meal with them. Then talk to your men, as many as you can. Absorb their experiences. But for now, take a moment to reflect for yourself. This is going to be a long and hard campaign, and it has only just begun.” The older officer paused and looked Giulio over. “Ah, I have yet one more thing Your Grace,” he said, a smirk now on his face, “Her Highness the Archduchess of Austria demanded your presence upon your return to the city.” With that, Carlo Cercignani turned and walked away back toward the group they’d left behind.

Giulio dé Medici looked up at the sky. He felt strengthened by the veteran commander’s words. He also was very interested to know what Maria Theresa wanted with his “presence”. If an illustrious warrior like him could share the same feelings, maybe it would all be alright. The prince looked down at his blood-covered gauntlets then said a quiet prayer. For the men who died. For the men he’d killed. For his horse. Then he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and adjusted his armor.

When Giulio returned to where Federico and Gonzaga were standing, now joined by another several officers, to include the hulking mass of Girolamo Riario-Sforza, they all looked at him warily. “Your Grace,” said Gonzaga tentatively. Federico fidgeted nervously. The prince clasped a hand on his shoulder.

“Why didn’t you tell me it was you who blew the Bohemian powder?” said Giulio, putting on a smile. Federico’s expression instantly turned into one of relief.

“Well it was a close call,” began Federico excitedly, “see, we were being stealthy but then this oaf went and fell off his horse.” He pointed to Sforza who shot back a menacing look. “The crash was so loud we were sure the whole camp would know. A couple of sentries did try to stop us but this Sforza goon made up for his fall by smashing their heads in with a hatchet. Then after that we were pretty much free to do as we wanted.”

“Well I guess we all owe you our gratitude,” said Giulio, “me above all.”

“Any time brother,” replied Federico, smiling, “it’s the least I can do for my prince.”
More classic writing; bravo, bravissimo!
 

JerseyGiants88

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Thanks so much for the kind comments. I also want to give a special thanks to everyone who nominated this AAR for the Q1 and Q2 ACAs. I know it took me a while to get the last update posted but I am hoping to have the next one, which will be Chapter 41 going to the end of the Dutch War, up next week. Thanks as always for reading.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 41: The Wrath of God, 1596-1601

Just as the Winter of 1596 brightened into Spring, so too did the desperate mood of the Catholic League begin to brighten into optimism. The Bohemian army was decisively defeated at Mantua on 22 February, turning back Emperor Vladimir I’s invasion of Italy. Johann von Habsburg’s Army of Flanders, now 39,000 strong thanks to the arrival of reinforcements from Austria, won a victory over a French army commanded by Claude de La Mothe outside Brussels. The Royal Governor’s defense of his capital not only forced the French to withdraw to within their own frontiers, it also left the army of the Prince of Orange, at that very moment besieging Antwerp, isolated and vulnerable to attack. The problems for the French did not end with their loss at Brussels. In the south, Grand Duke Francesco I and his crusading army of Italians was over the Alps and burning and looting its way across Provence and Languedoc.

The Bohemian army that invaded Italy retired back to the north side of Alps, but the Austro-Tuscan force, commanded by General Pietro di Campofregoso, was not far behind. The host passed through the Valtellina in late March of 1596 in route to Innsbruck. They reached that city on 2 April and there the Austrian army, now unified and reorganized as the Army of Styria, under the commanded by Georg von Waldstein, split off and headed toward Vienna. Campofregoso took his army north to Salzburg where they rendezvoused with King Albert II of Hungary. King Albert was of the Hungarian branch of the Habsburgs and a cousin of Archduchess Maria Theresa. His army was not as well trained or well-equipped as the Armata del Po, but it did number about 30,000 men. Combined, this brought the total force of the Tuscan-Austrian army to over 50,000 soldiers.
http://i.imgur.com/BFu9UII.png


Albert II von Habsburg, King of Hungary

While in the independent Bishopric of Salzburg, Bishop Eberhard V presented General Campofregoso with a golden statue of the Virgin Mary standing over five feet tall. From that point on, the Tuscan Armata del Po would carry their patroness into battle, kneeling before her and asking for her blessing prior to engaging their foes. From Salzburg, King Albert II and General Campofregoso marched northeast toward Linz, where Emperor Vladimir I was encamped with an army of nearly 20,000. The Bohemian war plan was for the Emperor to wait at Linz and join forces with the army of Premysl Otakar ze Lvovic, which had regrouped at Vienna and was now marching west. The war in Austria was now a race. Pushing the pace and demanding their soldiers’ full resolve, Albert and Campofregoso covered the 132 kilometers between the two cities in six days, arriving outside Linz on 25 April 1596.

Emperor Vladimir then made a disastrous mistake, born of inexperience in command and a misplaced sense of confidence in his own men. The Emperor decided to meet the oncoming army, over double the strength of his own, in open battle. King Albert, recognizing that despite his status as a king he had at his disposal the experience and talent of a great general in Campofregoso, put his own men under the Italian’s command. The result of the battle was predictable. The Emperor moved his infantry forward from the center and it quickly came under withering artillery fire from the Tuscan and Hungarian guns. With the enemy foot pinned down in the center, the Tuscan and Hungarian cavalry screamed down on them from the flanks and cut them to pieces. Campofregoso followed up this success by moving his own infantry, now with a massive numerical advantage, through the center, splitting the Bohemian army in two. By early afternoon of 25 April, the Emperor’s army began to disintegrate. He and his retinue beat a hasty retreat while his soldiers were either killed or captured by the opposing side. At the end of the day, the entire Bohemian army of nearly 20,000 men was either dead on the field or in the hands of Campofregoso and his troops. The Tuscan-Hungarian victory came at the cost of less than 3,000 dead on their side.

The Bohemian defeat at Linz began a snowball of woe for the imperial side. Four days later, on the other side of Austria near Graz, Waldstein redeemed his earlier defeats by vanquishing a larger Bohemian army under the command of Premysl Otakar Kaspar. This opened the road for the relief of Vienna and Waldstein, with the Archduchess at his side, began the march north toward the capital.

The final disaster for the Imperial adventure in Austria came in early May of 1596. Lvovic and his army of 31,000 men were still in route to Linz. However, Hungarian scouts had spotted them and warned King Albert and Campofregoso of their approach. Marching only at night, the king and the general positioned their army for an ambush of the incoming imperials. On the night of 7 May, Lvovic’s army made camp near the town of Enns on the west bank of the Steyr River. The Tuscan-Hungarian army moved into position and prepared for a dawn attack. King Albert personally led a cavalry contingent, accompanied by Prince Giulio dé Medici, to the other side of Steyr to cut off any attempts by the Bohemians to retreat east across the river. At dawn, Campofregoso attacked, catching the Bohemians out of position and sowing confusion in their ranks. In a repeat of the Battle of Mantua two and a half months earlier, the Boehmians attempted to regroup and make a stand but were soon overwhelmed. Unlike at Mantua however, they soon found their retreat routes cut off by King Albert’s cavalry and they remained bottled up in and around Enns. Despite Lvovic’s best efforts, the Bohemian cause was lost. The general himself was killed trying to rally his men and his force was quickly annihilated after that. Two Bohemian armies, one under the command of the Emperor and the other under their best general, were wiped out in as many weeks. The final tally of battle losses in the two clashes of Linz were over 50,000 Bohemians killed or captured to just over 5,000 Tuscans and Hungarians.

The disaster at Linz put an end to the Bohemian campaign in Austria. In one of the most stunning and decisive turnarounds of the tumultuous Sixteenth Century, the seemingly unstoppable Imperial war effort had turned into a catastrophe. On 21 February 1596, an Imperial army was on the north bank of the Po, seemingly poised to overrun northern Italy. Less than three months later, their two main field armies were wiped off the map, their greatest general was dead, and all that remained of their occupation of Austria were a few scattered garrisons. The Bohemians still held Vienna, however there was little hope for them to hold it for any meaningful length of time.
http://i.imgur.com/AumDWCT.jpg


The battles at Linz paved the way for the full liberation of Austria

The Summer of 1596 in Austria saw the mopping up the Bohemian garrisons by the combined armies of
the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Archduchy of Austria, and the Kingdom of Hungary. By early September when the Armata del Po tracked down and obliterated the last remnants of Bohemian forces in the field, a starving and ragged troop of 3,000 men under the command of General Kaspar, only Vienna remained in Imperial hands. The Habsburg capital was host to the largest of the Bohemian garrisons and its sizable walls kept the foe at bay. Nevertheless, as summer turned to winter, the prospect of the invaders holding out seemed bleak. The garrison commander agreed to surrender terms. The officers would become prisoners of the Austrians while the men would be allowed to walk free. Lenient terms considering the reports of harsh treatment of Vienna’s people.

However, pro-Dutch side had not completely given up. Nevertheless, the French and the Dutch did realize that the collapse of the Bohemian war effort put them at extreme risk. King Louis XVII of France was already beginning to doubt his involvement in the war, while French gold was paying for the armies of the Protestant German princes who were now the only ones keeping Poland from overrunning Bohemia. With Grand Duke Francesco I rampaging across southern France and the situation deadlocked in the Low Countries themselves, the best hope for the pro-Dutch coalition was to check the Catholic League’s progress in the east. Accordingly, Louis and the Prince of Orange dispatched armies from the Netherlands to Austria to try and turn the tide. They were to link up with the battered remains of the Bohemian regiments from the Austrian campaign as well as new troops raised by the Emperor in his lands. The French contributed almost half the strength of what would become the total force, sending approximately 20,000 foot, 9,000 horse, and 40 cannons east under the capable command of General Claude de La Mothe. The Prince of Orange sent a little over half that number. Their destination was Salzburg. The Catholic Bishopric was strategically located to block the main avenues of approach from Austria to the west. The goal was to cut off the Catholic League armies before they could be brought to bear against France and the Dutch Republic. If they could not take Austria, they would at least bottle up their enemies’ forces there. Emperor Vladimir I brought his reformed army west and met up with de La Mothe and the Franco-Dutch force at Nuremberg in early November. From there, newly reorganized as the Army of Germany, they marched southeast together, with a total strength of nearly 75,000, the largest force assembled in the war to date. Emperor Vladimir was given nominal command, but it was de La Mothe and Kaspar actually running the operation.

Back at Vienna, on 6 December 1596, the Archduchess Maria Theresa led the soldiers of three countries back into her capital. Riding directly behind her were King Albert II of Hungary, General Campofregoso, and her favorite, General Waldstein. The Archduchess bestowed upon the Tuscan general the title of Savior of the City and the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Melchior Klesl, blessed the fighting men of the liberating armies. Campofregoso and Prince Giulio dé Medici were also knighted into the prestigious Order of the Golden Fleece. Though the Archduchess was returned to her home city, the men of the liberating armies had no time for rest. Maria Theresa assigned her cousin, the King of Hungary, to hold her capital and guard her northern frontier. She then dispatched her entire remaining strength of arms west under Waldstein to accompany the Armata del Po. The influx of food supplies and the relative calm of the Summer of 1596 had given both Tuscany and Austria the time to recruit new troops and replenish and even increase their strength with new recruits coming over the Alps from Tuscany and Lombardy to join the veterans. As a result, the newly assembled force that departed Vienna eclipsed even the Army of Germany, numbering over 80,000 men.
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The liberation of Vienna marked the end of the failed Bohemian campaign in Austria
http://i.imgur.com/Ic06JKp.png

Neck insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece awarded to Pietro di Campofregoso and Giulio dé Medici

The simple presence of an army that large on Austrian soil presented a serious problem. The men ate their way through the food stores of every village they passed near. Though every effort was made by the respective commands to repay the towns and villagers for food that was eaten, theft by the soldiery was inevitable. Even when paid, a peasant had little to look forward to since the ever-inflating food prices would soon make his coin all but worthless. With winter coming, the Catholic League’s military efforts were to take a serious toll on the peasants and townsfolk of Upper Austria. The same was true on the other side in Germany. In Franconia, the Palatinate, and Lower Bavaria, the French, Dutch, and Bohemian army ate its way through the assembled stores of the peasants. Since the Emperor was the protector of those lands, he too ordered that all food was to be paid for. The payment for food did not, however, prevent famine in those lands any more than Austrian coin prevented starvation in Upper Austria.

The two forces were bound for a violent collision. The Pro-Dutch Coalition army crossed the Danube on 9 January 1597 at Regensburg. That same day, Catholic League troops crossed the River Isar at Landshut, putting the two sides about 65 kilometers apart. Scouting and foraging parties began to encounter each other and engage in skirmishes. The League army was blocking the road south to Salzburg so Emperor Vladimir, de La Mothe, and Kaspar had to decide whether they should engage their foes directly or attempt to circumvent them. The decision was made to make a feint by marching east, along the south bank of the Danube, to make it appear as if they intended to threaten Vienna and also to protect the left of the Coalition army.

Campofregoso and Waldstein viewed this move cautiously. They did not want to overplay their hand by marching straight to the Danube along the Isar and risk being outmaneuvered. Instead, they elected to move northeast across the hills that lie north of the river between Landshut and Regensburg. The Coalition force reached Straubing on 12 January while the League army was still about fourteen kilometers to the southwest near the village of Leiblfing. On the morning of 13 January, the Coalition troops prepared their positions. They would give battle at Straubing.

De La Mothe anchored the right side of his line, made up of well-trained Dutch regiments and commanded by the Dutchman Bartholomeus Van Renesse, at the Danube to the west of Straubing. He placed Emperor Vladimir’s untested Bohemian troops in the center with his own battle-hardened French veterans directly behind them in the reserve. On the left he placed his cavalry and a mixture of French and Dutch regiments under the leadership of Vence de Monfort. He also detached a portion of his cavalry to screen the river crossing of the Danube both above and below Straubing. In the case that the Coalition did lose, the experienced de La Mothe wanted to avoid the disaster that befell the Bohemians both at Mantua and Linz, where Campofregoso’s own horsemen cut off and fell upon the rear of the Imperial armies.

General Campofregoso held overall command but gave the center to Waldstein. The right of the Catholic League line was commanded the general’s old friend and most reliable commander, Carlo Cercignani. It was his responsibility to close the gap between the League center and the Danube, which meant he had the greatest range of territory to cover. On his left, the Tuscan general placed Ferdinand von Abensperg, who, like Waldstein, had redeemed himself for his failings earlier in the war during the recent campaigns. The general himself commanded the reserves, just like his French counterpart.

The first real movements of the battle did not begin until late morning. Carlo Cercignani pushed his wing forward where they scattered the French cavalry. However, they were soon slowed down trying to cross the Aiterach and Oberer Leimbach streams. This gave de Monfort time to bring up his infantry and meet the Tuscan advance at the banks of the stream. The narrow strip of land between the Aiterach and the Oberer Leimbach would be fought over viciously for most of the day, resulting in a bloody stalemate. On the Catholic League left, Van Renesse and his Dutch veterans took the initiative, starting with a heavy artillery barrage against Abensperg’s infantry, and followed with an attack of his cavalry around the far end of the flank seeking to turn the Austrians. However, the infantry’s discipline held, and though Abensperg ordered his men to fall back slightly, they regrouped and held their ground, anchored on a small wooded hill. Each side had bent the other on one wing, yet nothing decisive had been achieved. It was Waldstein who would strike the first significant blow of the day. His Austrian infantry, still riding high from the confidence of their victory over the Bohemians at Graz eight months earlier, launched an aggressive assault against the newly raised Bohemian troops in the center, commanded by the Emperor himself. The center of the Coalition line soon began to collapse and de La Mothe had no choice but to commit his battle hardened French contingent to the fight earlier than he had hoped. The arrival of the French regiments plugged the gaps in the line and rallied the fleeing Bohemians. Waldstein’s advance was halted but de La Mothe was now fully committed. His opponent still had his reserves to use.

General Campofregoso was content to be patient with the use of his reserve. Waldstein had taken the brunt of a heavy counter-attack from the most elite French units and held his own. The center of the line was stabilized. On the left, Abensperg had likewise survived Van Renesse’s aggressive early moves and was well emplaced with a slight terrain advantage. The most fluid part of the battlefield was the League’s right flank. Cercignani detached a part of his force, led by his cavalry, to attempt a crossing further downstream. This part of the enemy line was also less well defended. Recent rains had turned this part of the field, near where the stream flowed into the Danube, into a swampy bog, and the Tuscan cavalry got caught up. They were then fired upon by a number of French cannons and forced to withdraw, suffering heavy losses. Meanwhile, de Monfort had time to notice and adjust to the weakened numbers in Cercignani’s line created by the Tuscan’s attempt to flank to the north. At what seemed like the crucial moment, de Monfort sent his cavalry through the gap in the line and appeared poised to split the entire Catholic League right wing off from the main body of the army. However, just at that moment, Campofregoso poured his reserves into the fight. With Prince Giulio dé Medici, already making a name for himself in the war, leading the cavalry, the Tuscan horse intercepted the French cavalry advance and were soon engaged in a cavalry on cavalry fight. The French infantry, following in trace of their horse and believing the Tuscan line had been broken, hesitated. This gave more time for the Tuscan reserve infantry to reach the battle. As a result, de Monfort was now the one overcommitted and exposed. He had tried to shoot the gap between the line prematurely and now a large portion of his force was at risk of being cut off. Cercignani’s cavalry, the same ones who had been shot up by the French guns in the swampy terrain, rallied and joined the fight once again. They managed to take the hill and seize the French cannons, dismounting their horses to turn the pieces against their former masters. De Monfort sounded the retreat, and the battle was all but lost for the Coalition.

There were three crossing of the Danube at Straubing and so each of the parts of the Coalition army was able to use one to retreat north of the great river. De Monfort crossed first, followed by a reluctant de La Mothe shortly thereafter. Van Renesse tried stubbornly to hold out, insisting that de La Mother and de Monfort should reform the line on the north bank of the Danube while he maintained a foothold on the south bank. However, as darkness began to fall, he finally gave it up and used the oncoming darkness to mask his men’s movement across the river.
http://i.imgur.com/MXxqraR.png



The Battle of Straubing was the largest engagement of the Dutch War of Independence

The Battle of Straubing would go down as the largest engagement of the war. Over 150,000 men participated on both sides and over 40,000 died on the field that day. The strategic significance of the battle is not to be underestimated. It represented the first and last attempt by the French and Dutch to save the collapsing Bohemian war effort. It failed. Emperor Vladimir was forced to retreat back to Bohemia hoping only to prevent a full-scale invasion of his lands. For the Catholic League, the removal of the Bohemian threat freed up both Campofregoso and Waldstein to head west, following the retreating French and Dutch armies and bring their forces to bear on the conflict’s western theater. The two commanders decided to move together as far as Stuttgart. From there they would split, the Austrians going north to aid their comrades fighting another French and Dutch army in the Netherlands while the Tuscans went south to link up with the Armata del Nord, commanded by Grand Duke Francesco I to invade northern France.

Despite all the back and forth in the east, in the west the war was still being contested on more even footing. The Austrians and the French were trading blows in the Low Countries while the Prince of Orange and his top commander, Simon Van Galen, were once again besieging Brussels. King Louis XVII nerves were slightly eased when his army in the Low Countries, commanded by Georges de Bonnefoy, routed the Austrians under Johann von Habsburg outside Breda. However, in southern France he still had reason to worry. The Tuscan Armata del Nord had been operating largely unopposed and was having its way with the southern French countryside. They had already captured Draguignane, Montpellier, and Grenoble. A Hungarian contingent, numbering 16,000 men, was besieging Aix-en-Provence and the Grand Duke’s own army was laying siege to Lyon. On 1 July 1597, that city fell as well. The Austrians already held the French fortress at Dijon, meaning the road to Paris was largely open to the Catholic League.
http://i.imgur.com/wTfFJpX.jpg


A detachment of Tuscan soldiers destroying a village in Languedoc

To prevent this, Claude de La Mothe and his Franco-Dutch force, returning from their defeat at Straubing, moved to besiege and recapture that city. Campofregoso and his Armata del Po crossed the French frontier in mid-August. He had his army encamp outside Grenoble while he and a contingent of his officers rode west to discuss matters with the Grand Duke, whose army was still at Lyon. The two commanders decided to march their forces north and converge on Dijon to lift the siege. On 1 September, the two Tuscan armies broke their respective camps and headed north. Within two weeks both forces arrived at the town of Chambolle-Musigny, about twenty kilometers south of Dijon and the Franco-Dutch army that enveloped the city. The now unified Tuscans, with Grand Duke Francesco in overall command, posed a dilemma for the Coalition commander, Claude de la Mothe. With a strength of 45,000 men, the Grand Duke’s host outnumbered the Frenchman’s force of just under 30,000. The Tuscans had the option of bypassing de la Mothe and marching on Paris or simply smashing the Coalition army against the walls of Dijon and its Austrian garrison. The only hope for the French was to survive long enough for a new thirty three thousand strong Bohemian army, led by General Lvovic, to arrive and reinforce them. He decided to maintain his siege and deploy the bulk of his forces south of the city to withstand the Tuscan attack. They dug fortified positions reinforced with wooden palisades and pikes to withstand cavalry charges.

If the Franco-Dutch strategy was to survive, the Tuscans’ was the oppsite: to win quickly. Their numerical advantage would quickly turn against them if the Bohemians arrived on the scene before de la Mothe and his men were thoroughly defeated. The Tuscans had been operating as two separate armies for the entirety of the war and splitting them once again was an easy business. Francesco I and Campofregoso simply reconstituted the Armata del Nord and the Armata del Po and parted ways. Campofreogoso held his position in the south while the Grand Duke swung his army around Dijon to the north. The combination of numbers, maneuverability, and morale led to a surprisingly easy victory for the Tuscan forces on 27 September. The French and Dutch soldiers put up stiff resistance, but within a matter of hours, their line began to crack. De la Mothe, with the same reluctance that he displayed at Straubing, ordered the retreat. Dijon remained safely in Catholic League hands, and the starved and ragged Austrian garrison threw open the gates to its Tuscan saviors, who rewarded the defenders’ spirited tenacity with wagonloads of food and wine.

The battle for Dijon was not, however, finished. There was still Lvovic’s imperial army to contend with. The Crown of Bohemia did not lack for men, though its ability to train and equip them was soon to be found wanting. Less than three weeks after the Franco-Dutch siege was lifted, the Bohemian army arrived at the village of Fauverny, thirteen kilometers southeast of Dijon. The Bohemian scouts reported back that the Tuscan army was badly battered after the first Battle of Dijon and lacked for men and supplies. They consistently reported it at a strength of twenty to twenty-five thousand men. The truth was that this was only the Armata del Nord. Campofregoso’s Armata del Po had pushed southwest into the mountains and encamped there. When the imperial army moved on Dijon on 14 October 1597, they did find an outnumbered Tuscan army facing them across the field. What Lvovic and his commanders did not know, was that the Tuscan cavalry scouts had been observing their movements and as soon as they took their positions, the Armata del Po moved out from its mountain hideouts and fell upon the Bohemian rear. They charged out before noon, their "blasphemous flag", in the words of the Bohemian cavalry commander, Antonin Syrový, showing the Virgin and Child on one side and Christ crucified on the other.

It is a credit to the skills of Premysl Otakar ze Lvovic that the imperial army did not disintegrate immediately. He successfully turned his reserves to stem the initial attack from the Armata del Po’s vanguard and managed to keep his force together. However, surrounded on two sides, the situation soon became hopeless. Lvovic, hoping to save his army, sounded the retreat. However, while attempting to rally an cavalry regiment, he and his retinue lost their way and were soon overwhelmed by Tuscan infantry. The great Bohemian general, who won his fame in the glorious Protestant victories of 1570-75, was dragged from his horse, stabbed repeatedly by Italian foot soldiers, and left to die in the French mud. With the loss of their commander, any hope for an organized Bohemian withdrawal disappeared and the defeat turned into a rout. The Tuscan losses at the Second Battle of Dijon were surprisingly heavy, with over 5,000 killed, but they still left the field littered with over 15,000 dead Bohemians, including their celebrated commander.

The smashing Tuscan victory in the two battles at Dijon left the road to Paris wide open. After a brief stint operating together the two armies parted ways again. The Armata del Nord under the Grand Duke of Tuscany headed for the French capital to fulfill Francesco I’s promise to hear King Louis XVII’s confession in Notre Dame Cathedral. Meanwhile, the Armata del Po headed for the Low Countries to assist with Johann von Habsburg’s invasion of the Dutch controlled provinces. The war was going in favor of the Catholic League in every possible respect. To add to the Caolition’s woes on land, on 29 November 1597 a Tuscan fleet under Admiral Giovanni Tempesta annihilated a French flotilla commanded by Admiral Georges de Bonnefoy off the Cote d’Azur.
http://i.imgur.com/IWpE40V.jpg



The victories at Dijon put Tuscany in command of the war in France

The winter of 1597-98 was a particularly harsh one for all involved, and for the civilian populations of northern France and the Netherlands most of all. On both fronts, the advancing Tuscan and Austrian armies wreaked havoc. The cavalry was given free hand to search and requisition any supplies they could justify as necessary for the maintenance of the armies. Their raids frequently ended in the mass theft of livestock, fodder, grains, tools, carts, and horses. Villagers were beaten, killed, and held to ransom; and women were sometimes raped or occasionally abducted. Arson was frequent, employed most particularly against obstinate peasants. The legitimate search for food degenerated into a scramble for plunder and women in which the perverted cruelty of mankind, unloosed from the social controls of peace, found horrible expression. In vain, townships in the Low Countries asked for guarantees of safety on the grounds of their loyalty to the Habsburgs. The generals gave, but could not enforce them. Wantonly destructive, the soldiery set fire to villages and slaughtered such cattle as they did not drive off. In their lust for plunder, they dug up the graveyards for concealed treasure, combed the woods in which the homeless peasants took refuge, and shot down those they found in order to steal their ragged bundles of savings and household goods. They wrecked the Protestant churches. In one case, when a Huguenot pastor, braver than the rest, denied a Tuscan company entrance, they cut off his hands and feet and left him bleeding on the altar, a mangled sacrifice to his Calvinist God.

The crimes against the local populace were not restricted to the armies of the Catholic League. Even French armies visited suffering upon their fellow countrymen, though more out of desperation for food than for plunder. The ordinary soldiers, with their blackened and yellow faces, were emaciated, only half dressed or in tatters, and in some cases even looked like masked figures in stolen women's garments. They were the visage of hunger and suffering.

The winter was not kind to the defenders of Paris nor to the civilian population. The formidable walls held, but the will of the people did not. King Louis XVII, rather than risk the ignominy of having to confess before the “lowly upstart” Francesco I dé Medici, fled along with his family and retainers for the safety of Normandy, leaving his capital behind. After a one hundred seventeen day siege, the city surrendered. Francesco I, in his greatest moment of military achievement, rode into the fabled city at the head of his army. He was greeted by the Archbishop of Paris, Pierre de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, outside Notre Dame. The Cardinal blessed the army, and asked God to deliver both France and Tuscany from the horrors of war. Francesco, who maintained that all blame for France’s support of the Calvinist Dutch lay with Louis XVII and his Huguenot advisors, strictly forbade his men, on penalty of death, from looting the city or molesting its citizens. Despite some grumbling, discipline held, and after enduring a difficult siege, the people of Paris were at least spared a sack. Two days after the city’s capture, once Paris was securely in Tuscan hands, the Grand Duke along with a handful of his top commanders, emerged barefoot, wearing only rough spun, haircloth shirts. They walked around the walls of the French capital three times, in thanksgiving for their great and unlikely victory over the mighty French armies. They ended their journey at Saint-Chapelle, built by King Louis IX in the Thirteenth Century to house the relic of the Crown of Thorns.
http://i.imgur.com/ix4g1wz.jpg


The capture of Paris represented a crowning military achievement for the Tuscan armies and Grand Duke Francesco I

The loss of Paris was a crushing blow for the Coalition cause. Even the normally confident Prince of Orange, after being given the news, was said to have lamented, “Louis has lost Paris, and I have lost the world.” In the east, Georg von Waldstein was leading the Austrian armies deep into the lands of the Crown of Bohemia. On 15 May 1598, he defeated the last remaining Bohemian army, under General Kaspar, outside Breslau. After the fall of Paris, it appeared that Prague might be next. In the Low Countries, the demoralized and starved armies of the Dutch Republic fell easy prey to General Campofregoso’s confident, well supplied troops. The Dutch general Simon van Galen, fighting a running rearguard action, was defeated at Ghent on 20 May, Loon on 26 June, again at Ghent on 12 August, Vermandois on 6 October, Vlaanderen on 28 October, and then at Antwerp on 18 November. On 1 December 1598, Grand Duke Francesco and the Armata del Nord easily repulsed a final, desperate effort to retake Paris led by Claude de la Mothe on the orders of Louis XVII. The badly outnumbered and underfed French fought valiantly but were thrown back with heavy losses. It was the final time that the French attempted to liberate their capital.

An obstacle was thrown in the way of the Tuscan war effort on the way to a now inevitable Catholic League victory. On New Year’s Day 1599, a large uprising took place on the Arezzo region, just south of Florence. Arezzo, historically a backwater province going all the way back to Florence’s republican days, made for fertile grounds for the spread of Protestantism. It was a mild, and still very Catholic-influenced form of Lutheranism, far from the very Germanic form that persisted in some parts of the Val Padana, but still one that considered itself very distinct from the Church. Their revolt was triggered by a combination of religious fervor and food shortages caused by the war. The House of Este, historically the patrons and supporters of the Reformation in Italy, remained chastened from their experiences in the earlier parts of the decade. The former Duke of Ferrara, Camillo d’Este, had died in disgrace in 1595, after being forced to abdicate his title and move to Florence to live under virtual house arrest. His third son now ruled in Ferrara as Riccardo I. Riccardo was looked upon with distrust from the Grand Ducal authorities and was not even allowed to serve in the Tuscan army out of fears he would attempt to foment mutiny among Protestant soldiers. His only domestic policy that related to the Reformation was to preserve what few rights remained to the Protestants of Italy. As a result, he quickly and severely condemned the peasants of Arezzo as traitors and ingrates in hopes that this would head off any serious crackdown against his co-religionists in the provinces of Ferrara and Modena. Despite this, the peasants of Arezzo pledged their loyalty to the Este and appealed for Duke Riccardo’s assistance. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. Still, undaunted, they stormed and captured the city of Arezzo in late February of 1599. From there, they had a choice to make. Some wanted to simply hold Arezzo and turn it into their own Protestant stronghold. However, a more hardline group convinced the rest that they had greater glory ahead of them, that they should march on Florence itself.

Back in the Netherlands, the string of defeats suffered by the pro-Dutch Coalition and the Catholic League’s imminent victory in the war triggered a political crisis within the Dutch state. Since their declaration of independence, the Dutch had faithfully followed the rule of one man: Paul I Prince of Orange. Paul and his followers, dubbed the “Orangists”, dominated political life in the new state. Their leader, aside from the prince himself, was Filips von Holstein, formerly the Duke and now officially, Stadtholder of Utrecht. The Orangists favored a centralized state and hereditary rule by the House of Orange-Nassau. Their power base centered on Utrecht and the capital city of Amsterdam, where Prince Paul still enjoyed a great deal of personal popularity. Opposing them were the so-called “Statists”. For this group, the Dutch Revolt was about freedom for Dutch merchants and the growing bourgeois class from the domination of what they considered an anachronistic class of nobles. Their strength lay among the merchants and craftsmen of Bruges and Ghent. For the time being, the state of war with the Catholic League, and the realities of geography conspired to prevent a full break between the factions. The Statists were willing to play a longer game, and could afford to do so, and therefore wanted to avoid any future accusations of disloyalty to the cause of Dutch independence. Additionally, they had little choice in the matter due to their location. The Austro-Tuscan armies were within their frontiers and their attention was fully focused on surviving the ongoing Catholic onslaught.

The citizens of the Ghent fought back against the siege of their city heroically. For months, they managed to resist thanks to the strength of the Dutch navy and its ability to resupply food, fodder, and weapons to the defenders. Furthermore, the Armata del Po was divided, as Campofregoso led part of his army around the countryside of the southern Netherlands obliterating what remained of the Dutch armies. However, after the Tuscan victory at Antwerp on 18 November 1598, the army reunited outside the walls of Ghent. Additionally, and more devastatingly, the city’s lifelines was cut shortly thereafter. On 26 November, an English fleet under Admiral Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, smashed the Dutch off the Coast of Holland and blockaded the city. The determined defenders grimly fought on for another month but their fate was clearly sealed.
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The Siege of Ghent

On New Year's Day, 1599, the city council and military leadership agreed to ask for terms from the Tuscan general, Pietro di Campofregoso. For his part, Campofregoso knew of the internal Dutch political fight and viewed the Statists as a lesser threat than the House of Orange-Nassau. He and his commanders believed that if they were lenient on the southern Dutch provinces and instead visited devastation against the northern Orangist provinces, Prince Paul and his supporters would lose the political struggle. Accordingly, Campofregoso offered lenient terms to the people of Ghent. In return for the city's surrender, the defending soldiers as well as any other citizens would be allowed to leave, should they so choose, along with all their property. For those who decided to stay, the Catholic League commander promised that no harm would come to them and that any property taken would be repaid by the Tuscan or Austrian governments. The only condition was that all of the men in the city swear oaths that they would return to private life and never again take up arms against the Habsburgs or in support of the House of Orange-Nassau. The city council of Ghent, pleasantly surprised at the offer, eagerly accepted. On 5 January 1599, they opened the gates and General Campofregoso accompanied by Johann von Habsburg, led the procession of troops through the city. The Austrian and Tuscan soldiers, despite the fears of Ghent's citizenry, kept their discipline and few acts of looting or disorder were reported to the reinstated Habsburg authorities. Given the fury and devastation that was soon to be visited upon the northern Dutch provinces and even the countryside of Loon, by the Catholic League armies, the surrender of Ghent was a remarkably peaceful event.

After Ghent, King Louis XVII finally conceded the cause was lost and sued for peace. Grand Duke Francesco, who had sworn to hear Louis's confession prior to the end of the war, was already marching toward Aachen where an Anabaptist revolt threatened to overthrow the local Lutheran government. From Aachen he planned to head south across Germany and over the Alps to put down the Protestant revolt in Arezzo. In his place, he sent his friend and confessor, Father Arturo Guidobaldo. The priest rode swiftly to Paris, along with an Austrian delegation, charged with representing Tuscan interests in the peace negotiations and, more importantly, at least in the mind of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to hear the King of France confess his sins against the Holy Church.

Johann von Habsburg travelled to Paris himself to negotiate with Louis XVII de Valois. “As a Habsburg, there is little that can give more pleasure than humiliating the King of France,” he wrote joyfully back to his cousin, the Archduchess Maria Theresa in Vienna. Johann wrested the province of Champagne, adding it to his dynasty’s possessions in the Netherlands, and placing it under his own direct rule. He also forced the French to hand the province of Labourd to the hated Spaniards. Finally, to complete the embarrassment, the proud Louis XVII travelled to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where he confessed his sins to Father Guidobaldo, and apologized on behalf of his family, his country and himself, to Pope Alexander VII and the Church of Rome. With the ritual complete, the peace was signed.
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King Louis XVII and France were forced to sign a humiliating separate peace

For France, the defeat was bitter. At the outset of the Dutch War, all of Europe thought that the King of France's entrance on the side of the Prince of Orange all but guaranteed a victory for the Coalition. They were wrong. The combined military might of a reenergized Catholic League defeated the Valois armies, devastated the French countryside from Provence to Vermandois, and captured Louis's capital city. The defeat in the war discredited the Huguenot faction at court once and for all. Louis directed his rage for the defeat at them and their "misguidance". In their place he elevated a new generation of more staunchly Catholic advisors led by the Cardinal Umberto Alfieri. Alfieri was an Italian, born in Milan in 1552 to a prominent Catholic family in the city, he joined the church as a teenager. He soon ran afoul of the increasingly fervent Calvinist authorities in the city and fled to France, where he quickly rose through the ranks. His charm and diplomatic skill brought him to the notice of the king and a number of members of the French court. Alfieri soon developed a following there, gained the backing of the Duke of Guise, and soon took leadership of the increasingly powerful Catholic faction. They convinced the King that there was no time to hold grudges and that it was in France's interest to renew the alliance with Tuscany, especially since, in the wake of the French defeat, the Spanish crown was saber rattling once again. Accordingly, Louis swallowed his pride and took a self-proclaimed "policy of reality".

Crown Prince Alberto, who had spent the war in Italy ruling in his father's name, now travelled to Paris to renegotiate the alliance treaty with the King of France. The Medici heir and the head of the House of Valois were only two years apart, Louis being the elder, and liked each other from the moment they met and quickly became friends. Because Alberto did not fight in the war, he held none of the grudges his father or any of the Grand Duke's senior commanders and advisors may have had. Therefore, the negotiations were amicable and productive from the start. On 1 July 1599, the Kingdom of France and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany renewed their alliance. Alberto even threw into the deal a clause which provided a formal blessing from Florence to Paris to annex the French vassal state, the Duchy of Montferrat. “We have handed the King of France a dagger which is already pressed to our chest,” complained the Duke of Parma bitterly when hearing of the accord. The Crown Prince's naivety notwithstanding, the re establishment of the alliance with France would pay great dividends less than a decade later, when their common enemy, Spain, sought to reconquer its former possessions in southern Italy.

Back in the Low Countries, the Armata del Po marched virtually unopposed from Ghent to the Dutch capital at Amsterdam, covering the 225 kilometers between the two cities in two and a half weeks despite the cold and the snow. The Prince of Orange debated whether he should stay and defend the city that loved him so much or if he should leave and attempt to reorganize the resistance to the now seemingly invincible Catholic invasion armies. His advisors urged the latter course, and the prince finally succumbed to their advice, departing his capital only days before Campofregoso’s armies appeared outside Amsterdam’s walls on 27 January 1599.
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The Tuscan army on campaign in the Low Countries

Paul of Orange first travelled to Utrecht, where his friend and ally, Stadtholder FIlips I was seeking to bolster his city’s defenses in vain. However, shortly after investing Amsterdam, Campofregoso detached a portion of his army, commanded by Alessandro dé Medici, nephew of the Grand Duke, eastward to take Utrecht.

Two factors influenced what would happen at Utrecht when the Tuscan troops arrived. The first had to do with the realities of a late winter campaign in the early modern period. The soldiers, no matter how well supplied the army may be, were perpetually short of food in these lean months. Furthermore, because of General Campofregoso’s leniency at Ghent, they had had no opportunity to loot and release their aggression on that city. There had been no significant battles in months. The Tuscan armies were a victim of their own success. Their repeated victories over the Dutch had all but eliminated enemy armies from the field. Military life in the Armata del Po had turned into a dull, dreary, monotonous routine of marching, drilling, and waiting, all while the men ran low on food, were struck by disease, and were often paid late or less than they were owed. Their loyalty to their commanders remained strong, but their restlessness was also hard to miss.

The second factor had to do with their commander. Alessandro dé Medici had spent the war with Francesco I’s Armata del Nord, campaigning in France, where he distinguished himself in several battles. When the Grand Duke marched south to deal with the rebellion in Arezzo, Alessandro requested transfer to the Armata del Po so that he could remain in the Netherlands. The half-Ethiopian, illegitimate son of the former Grand Duke, Alessandro dé Medici was always a figure who inspired a mixture of awe, curiosity, hatred, and fear across Europe. These themes were echoed by the Dutch pamphleteers, who often depicted him as an ape and referred to him by numerous derisive names, always focused on his bastardy and African ancestry. It is unclear how much of this influenced his orders when his men arrived outside Utrecht on 16 March 1599. However, it is difficult to look at the Sack of Utrecht, done on Alessandro’s command, and not come away with the feeling that it was not at least partially motivated by a desire for revenge.

Alessandro immediately demanded that the city surrender. Stadtholder Filips I, who insisted that his defenses were strong and that help, in the form of an imperial army accompanied by the Prince of Orange was on the way, convinced the city council and the people to refuse surrender. He was not alone. Many of the city’s more fervent Calvinist preachers insisted that it was sinful and blasphemous to surrender to a Papist army. His offer spurned, Alessandro ordered an assault on the city. Utrecht’s defenses were woefully inadequate against the battle hardened Tuscan troops. As Alessandro’s soldiers broke into the city, they bounded in with a license to kill and sack because the town council had repeatedly rejected their call to surrender, in the belief the Emperor or the Prince of Orange would come to their rescue. And for this, as for the ensuing carnage, Filips and the council carried much of the responsibility. For although suspecting no military aid was forthcoming, they had plied citizens with promises about the imminent arrival of a Protestant army. The city's chorus of die-hard preachers and evangelicals had thus won their support when they argued it was a far better thing to die heroically than to be yanked under the “papist yoke.” Even if their leader had wanted to, there was little chance at that point that Alessandro dé Medici could have controlled his men. The prince had fought bravely in the war and had a well-earned reputation as a skilled soldier, but he had never led an army on his own before and still lacked the disciplinary skills of some of the more experienced commanders, like Campofregoso or Carlo Cercignani, who had stayed behind at the Siege of Amsterdam. This deadly and tragic combination, a recalcitrant and deluded city council, an inexperienced commander, and a hungry and desperate soldiery, led to the ensuing horror.
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Alessandro dé Medici commanded the Tuscan troops at Utrecht

The invaders looted everything they could get their hands on and carry away. Adult men were killed wherever they were found, many were tortured first. Women were raped on the spot in the street or dragged into cellars and alleyways. Many were afterwards taken out of the city and to the Tuscan camp. Alessandro ordered that children were to be spared and handed over to Holy Orders so that they may be converted to Catholicism, though his troops did not always follow the order. Stadtholder FIlips I, captured by a group of Tuscan officers, was dragged to the top of the Dom Tower of the Cathedral of St. Martin, Utrecht’s tallest point, and forced to watch the carnage as the officers taunted him. The Stadtholder’s eldest son and heir, also named Filips, was killed during the sack, run through with a sword and then stripped of his rich clothing and jewels. Filips’s second son, Anton, was also killed while trying to lead a group of citizens out of the city. Only the Stadtholder’s three daughters were saved, taken prisoner but placed under the personal protection of Alessandro dé Medici. By the evening of 19 March, the devastation of the city was complete. Utrecht had a population of about 30,000 at the outbreak of the Dutch War in 1595. By 1600, it had dropped to a mere 8,000. It would take decades for the city to recover.
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The Rape of Utrecht

Stories of the horror at Utrecht quickly spread throughout the Netherlands. Duke Guillaume I of Brabant used the sack against his political opponents who had urged him to join the Dutch Revolt. Many in the Netherlands had harbored resentment against him for maintaining neutrality, but the disaster at Utrecht, and the one to come at Amsterdam, seemed to redeem him. His own capital, at Maastricht, remained at peace while the cities that joined the revolt burned.

When Paul I learned of the events at Utrecht, he wept openly in front of his family and advisors. “I am responsible for this damnation!” he lamented, “I have doomed my people.” He attempted to use the horrors perpetrated against the people of Utrecht to move the Protestant princes of the Holy Roman Empire to action. Thus far, they had restricted themselves to using their armies in defense of Germany against the Kingdom of Poland. Why, asked the Prince of Orange, did they fight in the east but refused to come to the aid of their fellow Protestants and Calvinists in the Netherlands? The answer he received was uniform across the courts of Germany: the King of Poland had declared war on the Empire and they were dutybound to respond to the Emperor’s call to arms. In the case of the Netherlands, the Dutch had revolted, and the Emperor intervened, without either one thinking to consult the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire. Therefore, not a single one of them was obligated to act. And none did.

Despite hearing of what happened at Utrecht, the people of Amsterdam refused to yield. Like at Utrecht, they were motivated both by fear and religious fervor. Calvinist preachers regularly walked the walls and streets of the city, blessing all those who contributed in any way to the resistance. Despite their faith, the hardships continued to pile up around the citizens of Amsterdam. The once bustling port, with ships entering and exiting at a constant rate, was closed, shut down by the English blockade. Entreaties to the new Queen of England, Mary I, fell on deaf ears. Mary was the sister of the previous king, James I, who died childless, and she still blamed the Dutch for the mistreatment of their sister, Elizabeth, during the early days of the revolt. Furthermore, Mary was a conservative English Protestant and feared the zeal of the Calvinists more than she despised the Catholics. Against all odds, the people of Amsterdam held out for nearly a year. The spring and summer of 1599 came and went and their walls held. Despite the English blockade, the occasional ship did make it into the harbor, bearing small amounts of food and other goods.
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Queen Mary I of England

Back in Italy, the Protestant rebels in Arezzo had marched on Florence itself in the absence of any Tuscan military forces in their homeland. They had no effective siege equipment and harbored little hope of taking the city, yet they surrounded the Tuscan capital and tried their best to cut it off from resupply. Despite the Lutheran-Calvinist divide, the Italian rebels sympathized with the Dutch and viewed them as brothers in the struggle against Catholicism. The red, white, and blue tricolor of the Dutch Republic was not an uncommon sight outside the walls of Florence. Grand Duke Francesco I and his battle hardened Armata del Nord crossed back over the Alps in early June of 1599 and swiftly marched south. Along with their victories over French, Dutch, and Bohemian armies, they had most recently joined with Protestant soldiers from Oldenburg to crush an Anabaptist revolt in Aachen in late April. The Protestant rebels, made up mostly of poor peasants from the rugged Apennine hills of central Italy, never stood a chance. On 23 August 1599, the Armata del Nord surrounded, defeated, and scattered them. Despite the overwhelming odds against them, the rebels fought bravely and doggedly. While over 10,000 rebels died outside the walls of Florence, they took nearly 8,000 Tuscan soldiers with them. It was a stunning achievement. Not since the Battle of Straubing in January of 1597, had the Tuscans lost so many soldiers in one battle. It was the third costliest battle of the war for the Tuscan army and the worst for the Armata del Nord. Perhaps out of respect for the peasants’ fighting skill, Grand Duke Francesco showed a rare glimmer of mercy toward defeated heretic enemies. He ordered the surviving leaders of the rebellion, about twenty men in total, to be burned at the stake. However, he absolved all the remaining men, nearly 15,000 in total, of any guilt and allowed them to return home with no further repercussions.
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The dogged fighting of the Protestant rebels outside Florence earned the respect and mercy of Grand Duke Francesco I

In the Netherlands, the Calvinist defenders of Amsterdam used even the stories of the rebellion in Italy as motivation. Nevertheless, they began to wear down. The daring raids against Tuscan supply depots and undermanned guard posts became more and more costly. In the first weeks of October, to aggravate the animosity already caused by the losses on both sides, lashings of hatred and resentment were added at Amsterdam’s walls, as Catholic and Calvinist soldiers hurled insults at each other over parapets and ramparts, with one side abusing the Virgin Mary and the other promising, once they got into the city, to rape and enjoy the wives and daughters of the besieged. Insults of this sort were the stuff of sieges. Looking down from their walls, the defenders also used gunfire and missiles to maim and kill besiegers further angering them. On both sides, enemy soldiers taken prisoner were routinely tortured for extensive periods of time, even if it was determined they had no information of value to provide.

Finally, in the early morning hours of Tuesday 4 December 1599, a Tuscan infantry company from the Reggimento di Canossa, led by a young captain named Massimiliano del Rosso, got over the walls in the pre-dawn darkness. They overpowered the defenders they encountered and, despite the alarm being sounded, fought their way to the Regulierspoort, opened the gate to their waiting horsemen, and in rode the Tuscan cavalry, followed by more companies of infantry. Fortunately for the people of Amsterdam, General Campofregoso was a more experienced commander than Alessandro dé Medici and he controlled his men with steely discipline. Therefore, they remained better under control than the at Utrecht. Still, the city was not spared by any means. The usual scenes of murder and rape played out, just on a smaller scale. When it came to the looting, it was done with just as much zeal and efficiency as at Utrecht. The most important commercial center in the Low Countries, with a large colony of foreign merchants and bankers, Amsterdam was one of the richest cities in Europe. Consequently, in their looting orgy, the Tuscan and Austrian captains seem to have picked and worked separate parts of the city, ensuring everyone got a share. An eyewitness testified that three days after the fall of the city, Amsterdam had “no money nor treasures to be found therein, but only in the hands of the murderers and strumpets. For every Don Giovanni walks up and down the streets, with his harlot by him, in her necklaces and bracelets of gold.” “Don Giovanni” was a commonly used epithet to refer to the petty nobles and aristocrats that made up the bulk of the Tuscan officer corps. Duke Eberhard I was returned to his seat, blessed by the Papal Legate, and declared, once again, as Duke of Holland. It is unknown what Eberhard may have thought as Amsterdam, his city, was burned and picked clean around him. Whatever he may have felt, publicly he expressed gratitude to the Tuscan and Austrian conquerors for quelling the rebellion and to the Church for allowing him to see the “true path” and welcoming him back into the fold.
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The fall of Amsterdam all but ended the war

After the capture of Amsterdam, every effort was made to reconvert the people to Catholicism. As soon as the troops were well established, missionaries descended upon the hungry and plague-stricken populace and orders were promulgated by the military authorities forbidding emigration. The Protestant churches of Amsterdam, after being thoroughly looted of course, were closed. The university was dissolved and the superb library packed into boxes and trundled in wagonloads south across Europe to Vienna, Florence, and Rome.

The destruction of Amsterdam finally caused the break between the Statists and the Orangists. The former, refusing to continue to fight in a hopeless cause, took advantage of the ruined reputation of the latter as well as the fact that the parts of the Republic in which they were strongest were largely spared the devastation wrought upon the northern provinces of the Netherlands. In Ghent, where since the city’s capture in January of 1599 things had remained quiet, the Statists decided to make their move. They were businessmen after all, and this war was decidedly bad for business. Why had they rebelled to begin with? To gain greater freedom from the weighty Habsburg trade regulations. However, the English blockade and the marauding Austrian and Tuscan armies were far worse than any Habsburg tariff collector. Shortly after the turn of the new century, in February of 1600, they declared a new title, Grand Pensioner of the Dutch Republic, and officially stripped Paul I of all princely titles. They handed the reigns of the state to one of the wealthiest and most influential traders among them, Muarice Goethals. Goethals first made a name for himself as a daring sailor, traveling to the Americas and around Africa to the Spice Islands in the Pacific. He followed that up by establishing a lucrative trading house in Ghent and had used his money to bankroll the armies of the Dutch. In the same assembly, they declared their desire to end the state of rebellion and to have peace with the Habsburgs and the rest of the Catholic League. Johann, eager to end the war and return to living comfortably as Governor of the Austrian Netherlands, accepted their offer.
http://i.imgur.com/LfSVReT.jpg


Maurice Goethals, leader of the Statist faction, later elected as Grand Pensioner of the Dutch Republic after the war

The two sides met at Maastricht, hosted by Duke Guillaume I of Brabant. In addition to Johann and the Dutch Statists, representatives of Emperor Vladimir I, who was also eager to end the war as it was progressively ruining his reputation, Grand Duke Francesco I of Tuscany, Queen Mary I of England, and a number of other leaders were also in attendance. Paul of Orange, now living in Wiesbaden under the protection of his more powerful uncle, Karl I, Prince of Nassau, refused to attend or to recognize the Ghent Assembly’s election of Maurice Goethals to be the new head of state. Despite the snub, Johann von Habsburg was in an especially generous mood at the negotiations and they went surprisingly well, given the bitterness and carnage of the war. He demanded that Paul I and any members of the House of Orange-Nassau be banned from forever holding high office in the Dutch provinces. Loon and Vlaanderen were to be returned immediately to the Habsburgs and Holland and Utrecht were to once again be independent duchies, the former under the House of von Monheim and the latter under the cowed Duke Filips I. However, the Dutch Republic, to the surprise of all Europe, was allowed to live on. In gratitude for their opposition to Paul of Orange, Johann agreed to allow the Dutch merchants to keep their republic, with its capital at Ghent. They would pay a war indemnity to cover Austria’s expenses in putting down the rebellion. The Dutch Statists could not believe their luck. Even Emperor Vladimir, who was forced to grant Bavaria independence from the Crown of Bohemia, was happy with the results, since he would still be the new state’s overlord as Holy Roman Emperor. After only two weeks’ negotiations, the Treaty of Maastricht was signed on 1 February 1601. The brutal Dutch War of Independence was over. Two years after the war, Johann, who wanted to move his seat as Governor of the Austrian Netherlands to the newly conquered city of Reims in Champagne, gave Brussels and Antwerp to the Duchy of Brabant.
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The Peace of Maastricht ended the Dutch War of Independence

Duke Guillaume I, who would rule until 1631, turned Brabant into a significant regional power and, with the addition of the port at Antwerp, a major European mercantile state. His example of maintaining a determined neutrality despite his countrymen’s rebellion would serve as the other side of the coin to the cautionary tale of Duke Filips I, whose risk taking led to the end of his line.

Filips himself survived the war, converting to Catholicism at sword’s point after he was captured. He did not live very long after, dying in January of 1601, a depressed and broken man. With no sons left after their deaths in the sack, Utrecht passed to his son-in-law, Jakob von Naumburg, husband of his oldest daughter, Sylvia. The Stadtholder of Utrecht had placed all his faith and all his dynastic fortunes into the hands of his friend Paul of Orange-Nassau, and his friend had failed.

Duke Eberhard of Holland did not long outlive Filips. However, the outcome of the war for his dynasty could not have been more different. The von Monheims became leaders of the great Catholic outpost of northern Europe and were lavished with financial and political support by Austria, Tuscany, and, in time, even France. He was succeeded by his son, Willem VII as Duke, whose long and successful reign turned Amsterdam back into a major European port and center of commerce. Eberhard’s daughter, the twenty two year old Vera, was married to Alessandro dé Medici in the spring of 1601, thereby cementing the von Monheims’ reentrance into the Catholic fold and the protection of the Medici against their Lutheran and Calvinist neighbors. Duke Eberhard, who died shortly before the wedding, might not have approved of his daughter marrying a bastard son of the Medici dynasty, but there is no denying it benefitted his own.



Vera of Holland married Alessandro dé Medici in 1601

Paul of Orange-Nassau lived until 1620, spending his remaining years bouncing between different courts seeking to regain support for his cause. He never recognized the Statist leaders of the Dutch Republic and continued to maintain he was the leader of the Dutch by right. Few in the Netherlands paid him much mind. They were happy to forget the war torn years when Paul was their leader, instead focusing on the peace and stability that reigned over the Low Countries in the decades following the war. Paul lived with his uncle Karl I at Weisbaden until the latter’s death in the autumn of 1610. From there he went to Bern, joining his in-laws, the Odescalchi family, who had recently been driven from their capital of Milan by Tuscan soldiers. Paul finally settled in Hamburg where he lived out the rest of his days. He lived long enough to see his sons be allowed to return to Ghent and be readmitted into Dutch society. It took both the assent of the Dutch Assembly and the blessing of Archduchess Maria Theresa, but the heirs to the House of Orange-Nassau were allowed to return to the land of their birth. Paul, however, was excluded from the deal. He had sought to forge a new and independent Dutch state, yet he failed. In the end, he contented himself was a quiet house on the banks of the Elbe.
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Paul of Orange as an old man

For the Habsburg dynasty and the wider Catholic League, the Dutch War served as a statement of renewed vigor in the face of what previously looked like an invincible tidal wave of Protestant and Calvinist victory. It was, in essence, the military side of the Counter-Reformation. By the outbreak of the war, the Protestants had not only scored the preponderance of victories and sackings, and with impunity at that, but they had begun to boast that Catholics, and Southern Europeans in particular, were congenitally soft and altogether lacking in “chivalric” and soldierly qualities. What could be more apt than that they should encounter men like Johann von Habsburg, George von Waldstein, Pietro di Campofregoso, and Grand Duke Francesco I dé Medici, all careless of their own safety and determined to fill the heretic with a healthy fear of the Holy Virgin? After the Dutch War the swagger went out of the Protestants, and they largely ceased to believe they could wipe the Catholic Church out altogether. As the Seventeenth Century dawned, all sides of the religious divide within Western Christendom settled into their areas of influence and the ensuing decades saw a severe decline in outright religious warfare.

The Grand Duchy of Tuscany once again proved that it was a force to be reckoned with. Despite its titanic effort in the war, the state saw no territorial gain. However, what the Peace of Maastricht did not give in tangible benefits, it provided in prestige and renown. Never again would an adversary take the might of Italian arms lightly. The steadfastness of the Medici as allies also earned them a great boost to their diplomatic reputation. When, only six years later, the Kingdom of Spain attempted to reconquer its former lands in southern Italy, all of Tuscany’s allies readily answered the call to arms and gave themselves in full force to the war effort. This eager response from the Grand Duchy’s friends was made possible by its own exertions on behalf of its allies.
 
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Oh boy what a read!
Simply Amazing writing as always.
I know I am repeating myself but god darn it your writing is simply way too good :eek:
 

fabiolundiense

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Epic, epic, epic. The way you write about this war campaign -- I am breathless !
 

Nikolai

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I have to echo the other commentAARtors here. A most wonderful update.:)
 

JerseyGiants88

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So I just wanted to give an update to all my readers. I am getting ready to deploy with my unit in the next few weeks and we are getting toward the end of our work-up. It has been hectic and busy and the reason why I have been so sporadic with my updates. Most of the free time that I get is on the weekends and most of those I have spent with my family. Once we actually go overseas that free time will dwindle even further and be supplemented with very limited internet access. So, for the next 6-7 months updates to this AAR will be very few and far between, and I can't really promise there will be any at all depending on the tempo we maintain through the deployment. I do love writing this AAR and I think continuing that, even if it is just with paper and pen, may be a good stress release so I will likely work on it regardless of if I am actually able to get it up on the forum. I definitely want to continue it when I get back, so even if there are zero updates between now and the middle of next spring I absolutely intend for it to go on. I am trying to get one more update in before I leave, but I can't make any promises.