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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning


The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004
Hello AARland! After far too long, I am back with a new AAR. My last one failed due to CTD and I have at last decided to reecommence writing with a familiar narrative style AAR. I hope you enjoy reading it. Rex Angliae.


The city lay bathed in unseasonably balmy early spring sunshine. This warmed the rich terracotta tiles that covered many of the houses of this prosperous place. Steam rose from the tiles as the water they held captive from the winter’s rains was slowly released from its clay prison and evaporated into the thin blue air. In just a couple of months the heat in the old city would be getting unbearable but right now it was just a pleasant warmth that had encouraged many of the city’s inhabitants out into the narrow streets and wide piazzas. The river that circled the medieval city was still running high and faster than its lazier self of the coming summer. The small peninsula that had been formed millennia ago by the fast running Adige was known as the Thumb for this was its shape, and it had formed a naturally defensible site that the Romans had developed over 1500 years beforehand. Their massive amphitheatre, situated at the base of the thumb, dominated the small city. In parts it still rose to its full three storey height and the colonnaded arcades bore testimony to the builders’ skill in erecting such a huge construction – only the Coliseum in Rome itself was larger in the whole of Italy. The bulk of the city’s inhabitants lived on the Thumb. Tall, narrow houses crowded upon one another along the city’s busy streets. Here and there the congestion was relieved by a small piazza around which the houses of the more wealthy merchants and city officials could be found. These houses were starting to be built more for comfort than defence, but the city still bore a sombre, business like facade that warned would be assailants that this was not an easy nut to crack. It would be more than another 250 years before the city would find international fame thanks to the works of an English playwright, but for now it was simply a small, peaceful place situated in the north of Italy about 20 miles west of the great fleshpot of Venice…… Verona.

Not far from the base of the thumb where the great amphitheatre stood, hard against the Adige where it begins to curve northwards around the city, stood the castle. This was already known as Castelvecchio, the old castle, for it had stood here for several centuries. It was an imposing edifice with soaring brick crenelated walls punctured by several high towers that afforded protection to its inhabitants. This was the seat of Mastino della Scala, Duke of Verona and like many of his fellow citizens, he was enjoying the early spring sunshine as he walked along the wallwalk that overlooked the fast flowing river. His favourite dog, a large mastiff called Bruno, loped along easily beside him, perilously close to the 40 foot drop into the courtyard far below.

As Mastino looked out from his vantage point he could just make out in the far distance the mountains of the southern Dolomites, visible as grey sentinels through the heat haze that even this early in the year the sun had generated. Much nearer too, just over the river in fact, lay the newer town, most of it enclosed within the city’s stout defensive wall, although several hardy, maybe even foolhardy, citizens had started to build beyond the protection of the wall and up the hillside that rose up gently from the riverbank. A bridge, the Ponte Scaligero, connected the castle to the other bank of the river and the newer town.

Mastino had been duke since the age of 3 since his father’s untimely death at the early age of 27. He and his older illegitimate brother, Alboino, named after their father, had been brought up by their step-mother, duchess Beatrice. On her death in 1320, Mastino had declared himself of age and begun his personal rule over his realm. This consisted of the counties of Verona, Brescia and Parma which together made the duchy of Verona. At the time of his majority, Alboino was elected as Magistrate of Padua, despite his illegitimacy, and he had declared himself Mastino’s vassal. Over the years, Mastino had grown to full manhood and showed great promise as a ruler. He was energetic, both in the council chamber and the bed chamber, where his lustfulness had seen him father a bastard son, Fregnano plus two bastard daughters, Beatrice and Altaluna. But most importantly, Mastino was a genius with money. People likened him to another Midas such was his skill at maximising his income.

Verona was rich and the duke liked to spend his money on the beautiful things of life. Thus he and his children always wore the latest fashions, and his small, old castle was nonetheless hung with the richest of tapestries and even the latest paintings from both the Italian and the Flemish schools. Mastino was a great patron of the arts and as our story begins his fame was spreading across the northern Italian plain.

In addition to his illegitimate offspring, Mastino had a son and heir born in wedlock with his wife, duchess Tadea. He was called Cangrande, but everyone about the court knew him affectionately as Little Dog. He was born in 1332 and despite repeated and frequent attempts toi impregnate his wife with another heir, Mastino had been disappointed in that regard. But the duchess was young, still only 27 years old, enough and had proved her fertility. And she was tolerant of the duke’s many dalliances and allowed his bastard offspring to be brought up in the ducal court (not that she had any real say in the matter!)

As for his advisors, well Verona was still a small court. His bastard half-sister Omelia was his chancellor, and her husband, Paolo Pico da Verona, was steward. His wife, Tadea acted as spymaster, whilst Lodovico di Simiano acted as marshal, more by default than any innate martial skill. But it had been many years since the ducal army had been raised and for the time being Mastino had to make do with what resources were available. But he had earmarked identifying and appointing a new marshal as a priority. Despite his religious sincerity, Mastino also had to do without a proper court chaplain. Services were said daily in the castle chapel by itinerant priests usually sent from the nearby ancient Basilica of St Zeno Maggiore, patron saint of the city.

The duke descended from his perambulation of the battlements and summoned his sister cum chancellor.

“Dear Sister, may God be with you.”

“And with you too, your Grace.” And she sketched a deep curtsey to her brother.

“Omelia, I have been thinking. I am concerned that I work you too hard. I know that as yet you have no children, and far be it from me to concern myself with the intimate secrets of your bedchamber, but I worry that your work is too much for you. Accordingly, I have decided to relieve you of your duties as chancellor. Claudio della Gherardesca is competent enough and I am going to use him as chancellor for the time being. If you need an outlet for your time and skills then I am sure your dear husband, Paolo Pico will welcome an assistant steward.”

Omelia is shocked at the suddenness of this decision but she is gracious enough to hide it from her liege lord.

“As your Grace wishes, so be it.” And with another curtsey she leaves her brother’s presence, her long skirts scattering the rushes on the floor as she passes.

Some hours later, Paolo Pico presents himself in the duke’s withdrawing chamber.

“Your Grace, this is, er, most delicate. You have seen fit to dispense with my good wife’s services as your chancellor. I fear no that you will also be dismissing me. I have served you faithfully over the years and seen you grow to manhood and into full possession of your realm. I hope and trust that my services are valued. Please speak honestly my Lord – if they are not then I may need to seek service where they are.”

“Paolo, dear Paolo. Brother. Of course you are valued. I have noted a certain look about Omelia of late and I am genuinely concerned for her health. Claudio is well suited to the role of chancellor and I am sure you would welcome some assistance. And it may be that ere long Omelia’s thoughts will perforce turn to motherhood.”

Here the duke winked at his steward who blushed.

“As your Grace wishes.”

“And maybe this purse of gold will assure you of my earnestness in the matter. Take it with my blessing.”

“Your Grace is too kind.”

And with a deep bow steward Paolo backs out of the duke’s presence.

It is later that same evening and the duke has decided to visit his wife Tadea instead of availing himself of one of the many whores he can call upon to satisfy his lust.

“My Lord, what an unexpected pleasure” says duchess Tadea as the duke emerges from the shadows with the brush that she had just sent her maid for.

“You are still very beautiful Tadea, and your hair has the lustre of gold. Let me comb it through for you.”

“As you wish.”

And the duke begins to comb through his wife’s long deep golden tresses. It is not long before his left hand descends to her breast, and he can feel her reaction as he gently caresses her. Putting the brush down he turns his wife around to face him and loosens her shift so that she is standing naked before him.

“Let us go to bed, Tadea. It has been too long.”

“That it has my Lord, but be gentle with me, for despite the wait I am with child. I have not bled these last 8 weeks and my body betrays itself to me. Your Grace, we are to have a son, a brother for Cangrande to play with and to help him rule after you. What say you?”

“Tadea, Tadea, that is most wonderful news. I will make sure you have every comfort and care. You will want for nothing.”

And with that duke Mastino took duchess Tadea to bed for the last time.
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A good start. I particularly liked the description of the city. It painted a very clear picture.


The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004

Duke Mastino’s prescience regarding his sister’s fecundity was not misplaced for in early 1338 Omelia gave birth to a daughter, Violante. In honour of his new niece, the duke immediately ordered the building of a royal post in Verona, for news such as this ought to be disseminated more quickly than at present. Training grounds in both Brescia and Parma mark the occasion too.

One day, a glorious May morning on which the town’s beauty was displayed to maximum effect in the bright spring sunshine, a man dressed in a motley costume riding on an old bay horse, ambled over the drawbridge (down as ever in times of peace to admit legitimate traders and townsfolk) of Castelvecchio. A young, pimply sentry, surely no more than 17 years of age, bade him stop under the gatehouse arch.

“State your name and business” he asked abruptly in a high pitched, nasal voice.

The man – worldy-wise – replied.

“My name is not important, but I am known as Borso Corleoni. Some say that mankind is my business, although I am best known for my musicianship – I pluck many strings. I am a minstrel and I offer my services to the most illustrious prince, Mastino.”

The boy is confused by such florid language and muttering under his breath disappeared to find his captain. An older, burly man soon emerged from the guardroom, and taking a good look at the stranger he addressed him in no uncertain terms.

“Begone sir, we have no need of any minstrels here. Now leave before I set the dogs on you.”

“I think perhaps you mistake me for someone else” and with that the minstrel let slip a couple of gold coins that clattered on the cobbled floor of the gatehouse.

” Oh how careless of me” he said “Now where can I find a groom to take care of my horse.”

The captain is no fool and quickly pocketing the coins he called out to the young sentry.

“Franco! Here boy. Take this horse and see it stabled and fed. You, sir minstrel, had better come with me.”

The minstrel followed the guard through the familiar passages and stairways and eventually they arrived in the great hall. Steward Paolo was there and wandered over, curious at the oddly attired stranger.

“Tonio, what have we here?”

“He says he is a minstrel master Steward, but there is something about him that makes me shiver. He wants to see the duke.”

“Well we’ll see about that! Tonio you may leave us, thank you.”

And the burly captain sauntered away, discretely chewing the gold coins to prove their worth.

The steward is about to interrogate the minstrel when a familiar voice cuts across the dark and smoky atmosphere of the hall.

“Paolo. Who have you there? Bring him to me.”

“Your Grace.”

And the steward led the minstrel towards the dais at the end of the hall where duke Mastino sat.

“By all that is holy, it is you isn’t it!?” said the duke, amazed. “Borso Corleoni, master minstrel of Verona. I know of no other who would dare wear such outrageous garb! So you have come back eh, old friend”

“So it would seem”

“Show some respect you dog” interjected Paolo “you are talking to the duke of Verona.”

“Paolo, your zeal does you credit, but this man and I are old friends. We go back a long way. This is the finest, er, minstrel, in the whole of Italy. Borso Corleoni, godfather to my son Cangrande. Borso, allow me to introduce my sister’s husband, my steward and my brother Paolo Pico da Verona”

“Sir minstrel, I meant no offence” said Paolo, abashed.

“None taken master Steward. I am pleased to meet you.”

And he embraced the steward in a very Italian way, kissing him soundly on either cheek before shaking him heartily by the shoulders.

“Come Borso, we have much to catch up on.”

And with that the duke led the minstrel through the curtain that hung behind the daIs into his private chambers.

Later that evening Borso was given pride of place at the duke’s right hand. Cangrande is next to him. As the first course is cleared away, the duke stood up and banged on the table for silence.

“My lords and ladies. My old friend has returned to me. Borso Corleoni, the old rascal has come home. Borso!”

And gradually, the assembled throng started to bang the pommels of their daggers on the table boards and to stamp their feet crying “Borso, Borso!”

“Enough, enough. Silence! Yes, Borso Corleoni, master minstrel, and master spy, has returned at last. I jest not when I say that he is the finest spymaster in the whole of Italy, and given duchess Tadea’s advanced pregnancy, I intend to appoint Borso once again as spymaster of Verona.”

Tadea was the first to applaud; indeed she looked very relieved for her pregnancy had not been an easy one and of late she was increasingly tired and irritable. The duke’s decision had saved her an awkward audience with him.

“Now, come. Let us celebrate Borso’s return and get roaring drunk!!”

Two days later, the infant Violante, the daughter of Mastino’s sister Omelia and steward Paolo, died. The news hit the couple hard, obviously, for she had been a robust little thing, spared the difficulties that oft-times beset the new-born, even those of high status. The duke does not know what to do; he has never lost a child himself and wondered what he would do were this ever to happen…..

On St Peter’s Day, 29 June 1338, duchess Tadea went into labour. It was not a pleasant experience. The duke paced up and down as his wife’s cries grew ever more anguished. At last he could bear it no more and brushing aside the goodwives and doctors who attended the birthing, he swept to his wife’ bedside. She lay there, exhausted, beads of sweat on her brow, her lovely hair matted with sweat and water. She smiled and took the duke by the hand.

“Mastino, you must be brave my love. Look after Cangrande, and do not grieve for me when I am gone.”

“What do you mean” said a stunned duke, and he turned to the old doctor whose long black robes denoted his seniority


“Your Grace, the child is presenting rump first. He has not turned round in the womb as he should. Unless we can get him out, your wife will die. Sire, I must ask your permission to cut the duchess and draw the child out.

“You mean as the great Caeasar was born? Perhaps it is an omen”

“Indeed my Lord, perhaps it is”

The duke looked at the duchess who nodded almost imperceptibly. He turned back to the doctor and said.

“Do what you must but make sure she is well-drugged with poppy juice, and whatever you do make sure she lives."

“The first I can gladly do, but her survival is in the hand of God, not man, but I shall do all I can.”

The duchess’s screams were heard throughout the castle. At length they subsided to be replaced by an eerie silence and the doctor emerged from the birthing chamber carrying a bloody burden in his outstretched arms.

“Your Grace, it was a boy, but I could do nothing for him. He breathed but a few short breaths but the trauma was too great for him.”

“And the duchess? Is she sleeping?”

“My Lord, she sleeps the sleep of eternity. I could do naught for her, so great was the loss of blood. I am truly sorry.”

The duke bit his lip hard.

“Not half as sorry as I am.”

And with that the duke turned on his heel and left the assembled company so that none should see his tears.
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Vann the Red

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Dec 30, 2005
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I'm in! Great to see another Rex AAR.



The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004
Vann old friend, great to hear from you and thanks for stopping by. I hope you will enjoy this as much as you have my other AARs.

Morrell8, welcome aboard. Shattered indeed but what lies ahead....?

Alfredian, thanks for popping by. Hope you continue to enjoy!
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The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004

Borso Corleoni was an enigma. He had been the duke’s closest friend as a boy; some had commented on the closeness of a low-born courtier with the infant duke, but regent Beatrice knew that the boy Mastino was fond of his friend Borso, and she encouraged the friendship. The boys had been inseparable and had grown through infancy and their teenage years together. When he was 16, the duke made Borso his spymaster, despite his youth and inexperience. And then all of a sudden, shortly after his 17th birthday, Borso had announced that he was leaving the court. The duke pleaded with him to stay, but Borso was determined. He said he needed to travel to broaden his horizons and to complete his education, and in time the duke realised the truth of the matter, but he came to resent the fact that as duke he had no such freedom. He was stuck in Verona. Borso had promised to return, but as the years went by, duke Mastino began to doubt that he would ever see his old friend again. But he had insisted that when his son Cangrande was born that Borso Corleoni would be his godfather, and a priest had stood proxy for the absent Borso.

And now he was back. Unannounced, unexpected, and undoubtedly more worldy wise, and most definitely a better spymaster for his experience abroad. Borso had travelled to Jerusalem and seen all the holy places, and then he had travelled to Constantinople to the court of the Emperor via Cyprus and Rhodes. At Constantinople he had studied the many ancient texts and learned from the lives of the great Byzantine emperors and their courts. Thus it was a much wiser and capable Borso that had returned at last to his boyhood friend.

It was high summer 1338, not long after the death of duchess Tadea, that Borso suggested to duke Mastino that he should conduct a tour of Verona’s northern Italian neighbours to assess their loyalty, their ambition and their strength. And so in early August, in the heat of an Italian summer, Borso set off. The duke could not help but wonder if this was another more permanent departure and whether he would ever see his friend again.

But in September, a letter arrived from Borso advising that regrettably the duke’s nephew Gilanetto, Magistrate of Bologna, had declined to become Mastino’s vassal. But Borso’s message was not entirely downbeat and he felt confident that other rulers might be more pliable.

Borso was not the only one of Mastino’s advisers who had been busy. Chancellor Claudio had sent numerous letters to the courts of northern Europe and beyond seeking a new wife for the duke. The succession hung by the fragile thread of Cangrande’s life, and were anything to befall him, Mastino would have no legitimate successor. One day on November 1338, the chancellor approached the duke.

“Your Grace, concerning the matter of your marriage….”

“Not that again.” Said the duke.

“My Lord, you must see that it is imperative that you marry again and sire another heir. Cangrande is robust, but were anything to happen to him who would succeed you?”

The duke sighed. “Go on then Claudio. What do you have for me this time?”

“I have scoured the courts of Europe to secure you the perfect bride. She is young, of impeccable lineage, and is said to be passing fair. I have had a portrait sent which shows her beauty….”

“Portraits! What good are they. Have you ever seen an ugly wench portrayed? No. Well I don’t give a fig for your portrait……”

But at this point the chancellor’s servant brought in a small wooden frame covered in a velvet cloth which he swiftly removed to reveal a portrait of a most comely young woman that stopped the duke in mid-sentence.

“Well this one certainly looks the part” said the duke, clearly impressed. “Who is she?”

“Your Grace, she is Margaret Bruce, the 16 year old sister of King David of Scotland. She has many suitors, but I believe that the king knows us to be in earnest and will look favourably on your suit. He is keen to extend his influence in Italy to avoid over reliance on France as a bulwark against England.”

In late November 1338 Princess Margaret arrived at Verona after a month’s journey from her brother’s court in far away Edinburgh. She and the duke were married with due pomp in the Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore on 2 December. The duke’s loyal townsfolk make him a gift of over 500 gold pieces to celebrate the occasion.

There was more celebration in early January when the new duchess announced that she was with child.

And in February came a letter from Borso advising that the new Magistrate of Mantua, Corrado Gonzaga had agreed to become duke Mastino’s vassal. A great feast was held in honour of this news at which everyone commented on the duchess’s beauty – for once the portrait painted had not lied for she was indeed a rare beauty.

The year passed. The duke spent some of the money gifted at his marriage on a new school in Brescia and in Parma and the Verona sawmill operated at full capacity and earned extra tolls for the duke, who of course controlled its operation through the master sawyer.

On 2 September 1339 duchess Margaret was safely delivered of a daughter, Augusta. Sadly, the infant lived just a few short weeks and in early November her brief life came to an end. The ducal couple consoled one another and in early 1340 the duchess was once again pregnant. This time the duke celebrated by ordering an expansion of Castelvecchio in Verona, and by the establishment of war academies in Brescia and Parma.

“Your Grace. May I present Antonio Pellegrino. He is a travelling merchant and claims that he can teach your son Cangrande enhanced stewardship skills. The boy learns well sire, and has already learned all I can teach him, but if Antonio speaks true, then I recommend you to engage him.”

“Paolo, your honesty does you credit. Sir merchant, what is your price for this bounty.”

“If it please your Grace, the price is one year’s ducal income.”

“That is outrageous” said the duke, astonished.

“Sire, it is not cheap I agree but for that sum your son will learn all my secrets and his prowess as steward of his future inheritance will be greatly improved. It will take me 12 months to pass on all my knowledge so you will be able to gauge my success, and I ask only for half of the sum now, with the balance to be paid once you are satisfied that I have delivered on my promise.”

And so the ducal coffers were emptied of some 1230 gold coins, and in due course Cangrande’s stewardship skills were enhanced as Antonio had promised.

Duchess Margaret’s time came in November 1340. She had been healthy throughout her pregnancy and everyone said that this time it would be the much longed for son. It was, but the infant was stillborn, and in the days that followed the duchess’s condition failed rapidly. It was what one day would come to be recognised as puerperal fever, but the doctors were unable to save her and she passed away on the eve of St Martin. The duke was beside himself with grief.

The Christmas court that year was a sombre one. Spymaster Borso was still absent and the court was still mourning the loss of their beautiful young duchess. Work continued on expanding Castelvecchio, but little else seemed to be happening in those dark days.

And then one day in May 1341, a grey day with more than a hint of rain in the air, a messenger arrived at Castelvecchio wearing the distinctive lion rampant tabard of the king of Scots. He was received with full regard to the diplomatic niceties, for all supposed that he was on some business concerning the late Scottish princess who had so briefly been duchess in this place.

The herald was admitted to the ducal presence. Mastino sat on his throne, his favourite hound Bruno at his feet, and chancellor Claudio and steward Paolo standing behind him on either side. In heavily accented Italian the ambassador spoke.

“My lord Duke, I bring greetings from your noble brother of Scotland, David, King of that nation. He shares your grief at the tragic loss of his most beloved sister, and trusts that it will not weaken relationships between the two realms.”

The duke waved his hand absent-mindedly.

“But I am also entrusted to make an offer to cement this relationship further still. His Grace the king has another sister, Elizabeth. She is as comely as her late lamented sister Margaret, and I am instructed to offer you her hand in marriage. His Grace is most keen that you accept this offer for he holds you and your realm in the highest regard. I bring a portrait of the fair princess.”

And with that he revealed another portrait painted 0n wooden panels that showed an undeniable likeness to duchess Margaret.

“She is a fair lady, my lord, do you not think.”

“Indeed she is, sir herald. She will do nicely. My chancellor here will make the necessary arrangements for the nuptials.”

And with that the duke swept out of the chamber leaving Claudio to do as he was bidden and arrange the marriage. This took place later that summer once again in the Basilica of St Zeno. The new duchess was indeed another beauty, sharing her older sister’s looks to a remarkable degree – had a visitor been absent from Verona for a while he could be forgiven for mistaking duchess Elizabeth for duchess Margaret, so striking was the similarity between the two sisters.

The duke was beginning to feel that once again he had lost spymaster Borso, for naught had been heard from him for many months. And then, just when he was despairing, in March 1342 a letter arrived from Borso. This informed the duke that Obizzo d’Este. Magistrate of Ferrara and Modena had expressed his desire to become Mastino’s vassal. Borso had, of course, accepted on the duke’s behalf.

A week later and another letter arrived, clearly delayed given the distances involved, which advised that both the Bishop of Ravenna and Rodolfo, Magistrate of Ancona had agreed to become Mastino’s vassals too. However, nephew Gilanetto still refused to bend the knee.

Borso had clearly been working hard and travelling far. In September 1342 yet more news came from him. At last Gilanetto had consented to become his uncle’s vassal – in fact he had openly sought it. Also Sighinolfo, Count of Urbino had asked for the duke’s protection.

Mastino’s prestige was soaring and his fame was spreading across the northern Italian plain. On Christmas Day 1342 he declared himself Duke of Modena and Duke of Ferrara, but he said, modestly, that he would continue to be known simply as the Duke of Verona.

Busy on the diplomatic front, Mastino continued to be as energetic on the dynastic front. By April 1342 duchess Elizabeth was with child, and in January 1343 her time came. Mastino was beside himself with worry, for he had already lost two wives in childbirth, and whilst people might think to lose one was unfortunate, to lose two seemed rather careless. He arranged for the best doctors in all of northern Italy to attend her lying in. Alas, their combined skill was not enough, and Mastino lost his third wife in labour, along with the female child she carried.

Mastino felt cursed and he lay prostrate for three days and nights before the embalmed corpse of St Zeno in its ghoulish sarcophagus in the crypt of the great Basilica that bore his name, pleading that the Lord God would end the persecution of his house and grant him a wife that would give him the son and spare heir he so desperately craved.
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The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004

Mastino had by now been duke for 30 years, and as we have seen, latterly his fame and prestige had soared with many of his neighbours seeking his protection in the uncertain times that were the 1340s. The latest of these was Charles, Bishop of Trent, who sought Mastino’s overlordship in January 1343.

After the completion of the second Bruce marriage, Chancellor Claudio had thought that his work as a wedding broker was at an end, but Mastino still needed his spare heir and so Claudio and his staff set off once again in pursuit of the perfect bride for the duke. She had to be pretty (of course), she had to be high born, she had to be young, it would help if she were an heiress, but above all she had to be healthy. Mastino wanted his next marriage to be his last and hoped in all earnestness that he would pre-decease his next spouse.

Claudio sent his servants to France, to England, to southern Italy and even to the court of Byzantium itself. He himself set off north, to Germany and the Empire. He set off towards the high alpine passes that gave access to the mighty Holy Roman Empire. From Munich he sent word ahead to the court of Emperor Ludwig that he came in peace seeking a bride for his master the esteemed duke of Verona. His entourage was modest, but there were sufficient men at arms to deter all but the most foolhardy of outlaws, and the group progressed steadily northwards under the simple banner of Verona – a yellow cross on a blue field. At length Claudio arrived at the imperial court in Hannover. Tired and saddle sore, he presented his credentials at the imperial chancellery, and accepted the hospitality immediately offered in the emperor’s name.

That night Claudio slept the sleep of angels. His bed was comfortable and clean (for a change) and he wasted no time in falling asleep and dreaming about that young minx Francesca who kept him awake most nights in his chamber in the chancellery tower at Castelvecchio (where had she learned to do some of the thing she did he oft-times wondered?) He awoke refreshed, and having breakfasted on fresh soft white bread rolls with honey and the small beer for which this part of Europe was famed, he prepared to meet the emperor.

The imperial chancellor called on him shortly after he had completed his repast. He introduced himself as Jakob von Koenigsberg, a far distant cousin of the emperor, old enough to have been his father, and indeed he had served Emperor Heinrich for more than 20 years before the latter’s death. Now he served his son Ludwig, with equal loyalty and distinction. Claudio took an immediate liking to the man.

Jakob, taller than Claudio by nearly a full head, led the way through a maze of corridors until Claudio was quite lost. The imperial palace was so unlike homely Castelvecchio , and for a brief moment the Italian felt ludicrously homesick. At length they arrived before a pair of massive stout oak doors which a man at arms, recognising Chancellor Jakob, opened before them. These gave way onto the largest hall that Claudio had ever seen. It must have been 50 feet high and twice as long; overhead was a magnificent hammerbeam roof decorated with huge bosses painted brightly with what Claudio assumed were the arms of the various electors and princes of the Holy Roman Empire. The walls were pierced with long narrow lancet windows, each filled with a riot of coloured glass, and each one depicting a scene from the life of our Lord. Claudio recognised the incarnation, the flight into Egypt, the baptism of Jesus, and many more. At the far end of the hall was the dais. Raised a good 4 feet above the floor of the hall, it contained the plainest throne that Claudio could imagine, a simple oak chair with a high back. No carving, no decoration. Behind the dais was a magnificent window – a wide gothic arch containing the most delicate of tracery, so delicate that it seemed impossible that it was carved from stone. The glass in this window was the most glorious of the whole room. The sun was shining through it at this early hour, so Claudio knew it faced east – an interesting alignment of a secular temple he thought – and the sun illuminated scenes showing the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension. The various faces of Christ, whether in agony or ecstasy, bore an uncanny resemblance to the young man who occupied the throne below, and Claudio suspected that the artist had chosen to apotheosise the late emperor.

A discrete cough from Jakob brought Claudio’s reverie to an abrupt end.

“Your highness, “ said Jakob in the strange guttural language of the Germans “may I present his eminence Claudio della Gherardesca, chancellor of the court of the most noble and illustrious prince, Mastino, duke of Verona, Modena and Ferrara.”

And he made such a deep obeisance to the emperor that his cap of state slipped off his head and clattered to the floor below. Seeing this, Claudio removed his own cap, and with a mighty flourish he too bent low before the emperor.

“Your highness” he said in his best German.

“Chancellor Claudio. Welcome to our court” said the emperor in a voice surprisingly deep and rich for one so young – Claudio knew him to be but five and twenty years of age. “We had word of your coming and have been expecting you this past week.”

Claudio bristled at the hint of criticism but he controlled himself before responding.

“Sire, the roads were very muddy through northern Bavaria and our wagon lost a wheel to compound the delay. A thousand apologies.”

The emperor smiled and said.

“Signor della Gherardesca. I meant no criticism. In time you will get used to our foul German weather; how I envy you the warm sunshine and gentle breezes for which your city is famed. Now tell me though, for I am most curious, what is it that brings you to leave the warmth of the south behind you and come to our colder northern climes?”

“Your highness, my master has now lost three wives in childbirth. He has but one legitimate heir to succeed him, and hence he is most anxious to secure another favourable marriage to grant him his heart’s desire. I have sent men to all the courts of Europe, but your highness’s fame and prestige demanded that I myself came north to seek your assistance.”

“You speak well, chancellor, and your forthrightness does you credit. Alas, I have no suitable brides in my court. Rest assured had I any such I would have been pleased to grant your master’s request, for it is right that your realm and my empire work more closely together.”

Claudio thought the answer given rather glibly and with undue haste and doubted that there was not one suitable bride in the whole imperial court, but he could not openly question the young emperor.

“Come signor, let us walk awhile. Tell me, have you ever seen a lion, or better still an elephant? Let me show you my Tiergarten while we talk.”

Claudio inclined his head and followed the emperor respectfully out of the hall, chancellor Jakob bringing up the rear. He wasn’t entirely sure he knew what an elephant was, but seemed to recall that in ancient times the great Hannibal had deployed them against the Romans, and he was curious to see exactly what manner of beast it could be.

Outside the hall, the emperor stopped and waited for Claudio. The two men were of a similar height and build and in the dim light could easily have been mistaken for brothers.

“Signor della Gherardesca, I have a proposition for you. Although, alas, there can be no marriage to unify our courts, what would your master say if I were to offer him an alliance? This would be a mutually beneficial arrangement; Verona would gain the protection of the Holy Roman Empire and security along its northern borders and the empire, well we would gain a friendly power to our south leaving us free to concentrate on our more, shall we say, difficult princes in the north and east. Yes this would be a different kind of marriage, a marriage of states, but no less worthy for that. Now what say you?”

The Veronese chancellor had been expecting this and had already been empowered by duke Mastino to accept any such proposal. But he was not going to give the young emperor the satisfaction of an immediate answer.

“YouR highness, we of Verona are most flattered by your offer. I will give you our answer on the morrow once I have reviewed my instructions from his grace the duke.”

Claudio could see that the young man was irritated by the unnecessary delay, and smiled to himself that he had managed to get under the emperor’s skin.

“Very well, tomorrow it shall be. Now come, let me show you our menagerie.”


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Hopefully the "protection" of the Emperor does not lead to vassalisation.


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How old is Mastino's heir now? Are we going to go straight from one royal wedding to another?


The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004
Morrell8 There's a lot of embellishment in here to make sense of the at times random in game events, so without giving too much away vassalisation is not the reason for this seemingly random visit to the Empire. The next instalment will make it clearer why I used this device (and I really enjoyed writing this last chapter).
Alfredian Cangrande is 10 in 1343 so a bit young for a wedding yet. I couldn't believe Mastino's bad luck with his wives, especially the 2 Bruce girls who were not only sisters of the king of Scots but had good stats too. (I had hoped they had a younger siuster called Fiona....) In every game I play I seem to struggle at first to secure the succession, so watch this space.....
Thank you both for keeping up and for the feedback.


The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004

Claudio gave the emperor his answer on the morrow. He said that his master would be honoured to be an ally of the Holy Roman Empire, but was the emperor sure that he knew of no suitable bride for the duke. Chancellor Jakob answered on behalf of the emperor and reiterated that there were no suitable brides at the imperial court. However, they did know of a young lady from the Swedish duchy of Uppland, who had been a fosterling at the imperial court and in whose education Jakob had taken a personal interest. She was called Ingeborg Magnusdottir. It was agreed that Jakob would write to duke Magnus on behalf of the emperor seeking the match and that Claudio would head north to meet the duke and his daughter and hopefully persuade her to accompany him back to Verona as duke Mastino’s betrothed.

And so it came to pass. Claudio headed north through Denmark and crossed over into Scandinavia proper and on towards Uppland. He found the duke a likeable if rather unimpressive man, but the daughter was pretty and charming and clearly intelligent. Claudio pressed his master’s suit, and the indolent duke was only too happy to agree, if only to get one of his many daughters off his hands and settled with a suitable match. He said that the daughter of a duke should marry a duke, and although he had not heard of Mastino this far north he figured out that for an Italian duke to have sent his chancellor on such a long journey, then he must be a man of substance and importance, impressions Claudio was, of course, only too keen to reinforce on his master’s behalf.

The journey home took several weeks. Claudio decided to avoid the imperial court on the way back, in order to hasten his return, for he knew that duke Mastino would be getting impatient. He had, of course, sent word ahead of his success, but one never knew with certainty that message would get through, and Claudio most certainly did not want to get on the wrong side of the duke’s temper. He knew his master well enough to know that upon seeing Ingeborg Magnusdottir he would be delighted, for she was another comely wench and would easily arouse the duke’s infamous passion.

It was on the eve of San Giovanni Battista that Claudio and his entourage finally arrived back at Castelvecchio. He found the city in eager anticipation of the day’s festivities ahead, for it was a holiday for all the citizens, a holiday for all but the taverners, pie-makers, bakers, hucksters and pickpockets that is, all of whom would do a roaring trade. Claudio had sent word of his impending arrival ahead and duke Mastino was awaiting him in the great hall. Impatient to see his new bride, the duke sent for his chancellor immediately.

“Claudio, welcome home my friend. I trust you are not too tired after your long journeying across Europe.”

Claudio was exhausted.

“Sire, I am well enough thank you. We lost but one man on the entire journey due to illness, and two of the men at arms were bitten by wolves in the forests of Bavaria on our return. But apart from that the journey was largely uneventful. And of course successful both in the conclusion of our alliance with the Emperor and in the acquisition of your new bride, Ingeborg.”

There was an awkward silence.


Well what your Grace?”

“Where is she, this new wife you have found me?”

“Oh, your pardon my lord. She has gone to freshen up. She said that she could not possibly face you straight from the journey, dusty and warm as she was. I took the liberty of allowing her to use the duchess’s chambers. I will send for her now sire.”

Fifteen minutes later, the future duchess Ingeborg walked into the great hall accompanied by her maids and servants. She approached the duke, seated in his throne on the dais, executed a deep curtsey and said in heavily accented Italian.

“My lord, my master and my husband.”

She remained in position until Mastino stood, went over to her, and bade her rise.

“Madame, let me see you. I have heard great tales of your beauty…..and now I see that they are true. My lady you are most welcome to our court. Now come sit beside me and tell me of your journey. I trust that my chancellor treated you well and attended your needs.”

“My lord, I could not have wished for a better escort. He even managed to teach me a little Italian, but I fear I will need to use his services as my interpreter for a while longer yet.”

“Of course, and you shall have them. Claudio is a most cunning linguist.”

The wedding was held on St Peter’s Day, that is to say 29 July, in the basilica of San Zeno Maggiore. Truth be told, the city was a little “weddinged-out” for this was the duke’s third wedding in quick order, and more than one of the citizens wondered how long this latest match would last. Nevertheless the good people of Verona stumped up 911 pieces of gold to honour the ducal couple, a gift Mastino accepted with alacrity.

Nine months later, Ingeborg gave Mastino the spare heir he so desperately craved. The duke named him Vitale, and he seemed a very healthy and happy infant. All the bells in all of Verona’s churches were rung for 24 hours in celebration. The duke got very drunk.

During those nine months, Mastino had been called upon to honour his new alliance with the Emperor. The Emperor was starting to crumble as one after another of Ludwig’s vassals rebelled. Chancellor Claudio and the duke saw opportunities in this and responded positively to imperial requests to make war on Gelre, Luebeck, Meissen. The duke knew he could not fight on three fronts and so he sent marshal Lodovico to Luebeck, whilst Mastino himself took charge of the defence of his own realm. The imperial war was good experience for Mastino and his chancellor and his marshal. A battle was won in Luebeck but before the advantage could be pressed, Emperor Ludwig made peace with the Baltic state and Lodovico was forced to return home empty-handed. Better luck with Meissen though. Mastino knew little about its duke but thought he must be seriously deranged, for although there had been no direct hostilities between the two duchies, an embassy came from Meissen offering peace, the deal to be sweetened with a hefty gold purse containing nearly 1600 gold pieces! Mastino did not know the German for “snatch your hand off” but this was an offer not to be refused.

No sooner had peace been concluded in the north than the Kingdom of Sicily declared war on Mastino. Marshal Lodovico was sent south this time with the Parma regiment whilst the Veronese troops rested awhile. Earlier that year, Mastino had quarrelled with the Doge of Venice, as the duke had good reason to believe that the Doge was interfering with the upbringing of a fosterling he had sent to Verona. This fosterling happened to be none other than the Doge’s daughter, Lavinia, but Mastino considered her father’s intervention a slight and a snub and made certain the Doge knew his intervention was not welcomed. This would come to haunt Mastino in the months ahead.


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I had hoped they had a younger sister called Fiona....

Is this the first ever antiques roadshow related joke in an AAR?


The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004
Morrell8, Don't want to give too much away but wife number 4 may just be the one.....
Alfredian, Thanks for getting the joke. Hoped some eagle eyed UK viewer would understand and appreciate the reference to la bella Fiona.
Anhd rthanks to both of you for commenting. Much appreciated.


The White Rose of York
Jun 28, 2004
Long time no hear! Sadly my laptop died and I lost this game. I have however started a new CKII (learning) game wherein I am getting royally stuffed by the tyrant Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland. I had intended to write this up as a tale and I may yet do so but it may be a very short one as right now I am down to one demsne county as the king keeps revoking my lands despite me being Chancellor of Scotland. I am just too weak economically and militarily to resist. But it has been an interesting learning curve on CKII and my initial thoughts are very impressive; it's added a lot to what was already a brilliant game.

If I don't do this I will try another game and definitely intend to write up another AAR. Let me know what you think and who would be good to play in the new game. I have been failing miserably as Duke of Lothian. RA.