My feeling that the Hundred Years War is under served by PC gaming needed further exploration. My next test was a revisiting of Crusader Kings which, on the face of it, should be a perfect match for this period. However, I was already figuring that wasn’t going to work out in practice. The game obliged me by demonstrating a number of issues.
To get started, I tried returning to an alternate timeline that I had created to explore the rise of the House of Habsburg (but also found useful with regard to the Tour de Nesle affair). You might even recall that I had another coincident timeline which used Crusader Kings‘ features to focus on economics. Alas, these games are lost to the ages as there have been a significant updates to Crusader Kings, incompatible with my saves.
The changes to Crusader Kings II themselves are overshadowed by bigger news on the Crusader Kings front. The base Crusader Kings II game is now free on Steam. The DLC add-ons still will cost you but, if you don’t need those, you can play for free. The purpose of doing this is not exactly generosity on the part of Paradox Entertainment. They are currently hyping Crusader Kings III, planned for release some time in 2020. I look upon this with less enthusiasm as I might, but I’ll save that discussion for later. Instead, let’s get back to a new Hundred Years War campaign, in which I will play as Philip VI of France.
I began with the primary Crusader Kings starting point for the Hundred Years War, in 1337. The game starts you off with the proper historic personages and diplomatic structure to begin the conflict between France and England, one that should last until the end of the game, more or less. However, there is nothing that guarantees that the game will follow its historic course. Unlike Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings does not use history-based events to guide the game down a particular path.
As Philip VI, I immediately took a disliking to my son, John the so-called Good. I got wind of several of his plots to kill me and thus accelerate his accession to the kingship. I quickly stamped them out, but this kind of thing hardly endears one to a person. Despite proof of treason, I did not retaliate. Rather, I took the longer view of what would be good for my linage and for my nation. That didn’t mean that I didn’t gloat a little when John was killed while fighting in a grand tournament in Paris. When the time came for Philip to leave this world, it was his grandson who inherited the throne. John had but a single son before his untimely accident, whom he named Ogier.
Ogier is an unlikely name for a king of France and so it seems fitting that he can’t last. The name has particular implications to me. Not least, I can’t help thinking of the Wheel of Time fantasy race of that name. Perhaps above all the newly-created words for the series, Ogier stuck out because the race is such a departure from the classic fantasy setting. Ogier is also the French name (Ogier le Danois) for Danish hero Holger Danske, a legendary knight of Charlemagne. I encountered the name before, while I was playing Legends of Eisenwald and trying to pin down its historical time and place*. Coincidently, I had also just watched the Danish film Flammen & Citronen, a dramatization of the exploits of two members of the World War II resistance group Holger Danske. John the Good must have entertained similar fascinations with history to chose this name for his only son.
But as I said, Ogier could not last. While the list of claimants to the throne of France was long, Ogier’s anointed successor was the second son of Philip VI, Philip VII (in the real world he was merely the Duke of Orléans). The only thing standing between Philip and the throne was a weirdly-named, 14-year-old nephew who seemed incapable of controlling the French nobility. Sorry, Ogier. The problem here is that by killing the rightful king of France, Philip developed a reputation for nastiness that would haunt him until his death.
One of the more powerful factions aligned against Ogier and, with his death, now Philip was Blanche, the youngest daughter of King Philip V and the unfaithful Queen Joan. Somehow, my game Blanche managed to escape the nunnery (which confined the real Blanche) and she became the leading figure in a movement to restore the House Capet to the throne, thereby unseating the Valois children. Philip VII was, indeed, a more capable leader than the teenaged Ogier but there were too many powerful lords in Blanche’s corner. Shortly after gaining the throne through the murder of his nephew, Philip was forced to abdicated in favor of Blanche’s husband. Going quietly, he managed to retain the Duchy of Normandy and was granted an influential position on the royal council.
All that is to say that, by the time I find myself in the years beyond the ending of Quand un Roi perd la France, there is no Hundred Years War. France is fractured with a number of powerful interests lined up for the crown, but it is the Holy Roman Empire that seems to be the foreign influence behind the chaos. Unlike Edward and his personal claim to the French throne, the Germans are putting forth puppets and lining up the malcontents behind their proxies. As to Edward III, faced with a weakened France he seems to going the Church route to obtain global influence. In my game, there is no pope at Avignon. Instead, Edward has installed an anti-Pope in the north of England.
Clearly, as far as a strategic or operational treatment of the Hundred Years War goes, Crusader Kings II makes for a pretty poor game. Yet as an engaging historical representation of the times, it may not be doing all that bad. Just as The Accursed Kings tells us that it was some inconsequential intrigue on the part of Robert d’Artois that started a century of warfare, some unpleasant behavior on the part of Prince John seems to have avoided it altogether.
In Great Company
It is a struggle to make the connection between a Montjoie scenario and the novel, but I’ll do it anyway. One of the armies in the novel is commanded by Arnaut de Cervole, also known as l’Archiprêtre (or The Archpriest). Although not an actual priest, he was a minor noble invested with the fief at Vélines and he had also obtained the ecclesiastical office for the same territory. In The King without a Kingdom, we hear from Arnaud de Cervole’s perspective that the election of Pope Innocent VI caused the revocation of his benefice so that it could be redistributed as political payola. The Archbishop of of Bordeaux, who actually undertook the revocation, cited Cervole’s association “with brigands and men of base extraction” as reason to remove him as a representative of the Church.
Cervole had been gaining renown for his abilities in commanding small groups of mercenaries, and particularly for his skill in defeating castle walls during a siege. Through the 1350s, he commanded a group of roughly 80 men. In 1356, his men fought in the Battle of Poitiers. His side lost and he was wounded, but he also managed to marry the rich window of one of his fellow commanders killed during that battle. He also decided the the French king had only a weak hold over the troops under his command and was emboldened to expand his escapades beyond mercenary services into entrepreneurial banditry.
In 1357, he was elected leader of the Great Company (Grande Compagnie). He now commanded an army of 2,700+ soldiers and, after the Peace of Brétigny spelled the end to mercenary wages, began funding his now-unemployed army by pillaging the countryside. Enter the Arnaut of the book, who is doing just that. Unfortunately, his fictional location seems to conflict with where he actually was (Burgundy, as per Montjoie) at that time.
But what is that fictional location?
The novel takes place in the vicinity of two medieval towns, Castelgard and La Roque, neither of which actually exist (although the names are generic enough that close matches can be found almost anywhere). A little online searching, however, gave me a like suspect for a historic counterpart to the fictional towns. The real Château de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle seems a possible fill in for Castelgard. The term “Castelnaud” is of the same meaning and same roots as “Neuchâtel,” our great and fictional family from my lost timeline; meaning, essentially, New Castle. Across the Dordogne River from Castelnaud-la-Chapelle is the rather formidable fortress, Château de Beynac. The etymology of that name is a reference to having survived the attacks of barbarians, which makes it a “rock” of sorts. It is also similar in layout to the fictional La Roque. Worth noting, if you were to go roughly the same distance but the opposite way along the river, you would come to the village La Roche-Gageac. It is a town built into a cliff face along the Dordogne river.
This would place the story in Périgord (home of Cardinal Talleyrand!), about 70 km south and west of Périgueux. Correctly, this is right on the border between the French and English holdings during the Hundred Years War. In truth, the real castles changed hands between French and English occupiers during the war, as is discussed regarding the fictional castles in the novel.
After all this research (and not having found anything that referred me back to the novel), I remembered that there was a another location given in the story- not in in the 14th century timeline, but in the present. The students go to “the restored medieval town of Sarlat” for a bit of nightlife, after work. Sarlat is about a 10 km drive from my proposed site and it seems that Crichton’s descriptions of it match the contemporary reality. I also notice that the Wikipedia page for the medieval county of Périgord contains a link describing the province as the location for Timeline. It is referenced (again, in the modern timeline) by it’s current designation, the department bearing the the same name as the river (Dordogne). Unfortunately, the footnote link goes to a dead page in Michael Crichton’s website, which he had created for the book Timeline. I have to wonder if everything that I sought out for myself was exactly explained by the author, had I only read it a few years earlier.
So there it is.
As I mentioned before, as simplistic as it is, the game Montjoie often provides a better feel for the historical timeline than Crusader Kings simply because it does so through a handful of events and some flavor text. In this case, it’s not clear to me how the flavor relates back to the mechanics. There are three factions in this scenario; France, England, and Burgundy. Are one or more of these factions to represent competing compagnies**? Are some or all of them meant to be play as the nation state as depicted? I played as Burgundy and lost. As Burgandy, this is a very difficult scenario. Burgundy is allied with the stronger France and the two must compete to see who can gather up the most points (territory x turns held) with out being allowed to take on each other directly. The French advantage is substantial.
More than anything else, I come back to Montjoie in this post so I can include the above screenshot. When I was playing the Chevauchée scenario, I couldn’t manage to capture the screen showing the battle animation. With the Grande Compagnies I did take some grabs while the AI players were fighting each other. Not being animated, you don’t get the full effect. Each formation of soldiers is a static rendering, but they independently wiggle and moves around the screen. Arrows fly and, as units meet their maker, they are flicked out of the frame (see the infantry at the top-center of the battle). When killed, they leave behind cartoonish but gory remains. The animations are accompanied by sound effects. In total, it all seems quite silly, which drives one’s impression for the game overall.
I’ll also toss this last bit in here. When the book was published a release of a tie-in PC game quickly followed. That game is generally regarded as pretty bad and, like the film, lost money.
Traveler of Both Time and Space
I’ve read the book before, so the re-reading goes quickly. Timeline follows the path of Crichton’s signature science fiction; anchored just enough in reality that it becomes difficult to figure out where the science ends and the fiction begins. By his own admission, he put more effort into the details of the Medieval history than into the quantum physics. Like Jurassic Park, part of his goal seems to be to emphasize the state-of-the art in Medieval History (or Dinosaur-related scientific thought, if we’re back in Jurassic Park) and the way that popular conception “has it wrong.”
I’m going to break with my usual tradition and fully give away portions of the plot and the ending of the book. I figure that the book has been out a long time; it was published twenty years ago in November, 1999. The movie has been out long enough to have already been viewed and (mercifully) forgotten. Besides that, we’re not talking the great works of literature here. Since I was reading this book for the nth time since I first got it, my experience is one of being fully aware of the plot line. Stop now if you want to read the book unspoiled by me.
Having the plot “spoiled” was actually a help to me given one of my complaints, a problem I had after the first time through. As I’ve said, a Crichton device is to have characters discover key plot points only to have them unable to explain the discovery to the reader, which sets up tension. When it comes, Crichton’s reveal is often disappointing given the setup. However, when one knows all the twists going in, the false tension tends to be considerably less annoying.
Consider one such example from Timeline. One of the students is a physicist named David Stern. He has been chosen to travel back in time but backs out at the last moment for reasons he can’t quite articulate. The first-time reader is eager to learn what Stern seems to have figured out, particularly since he’s a physicist. Is there bad math or science? Turns out, he just suspects that the presentation they were given omitted some information about risks. They did, but it’s only a gut feeling of his. Eventually, he gets the extra details, which mostly seem inconsequential to the plot.
One might expect, based entirely on the subject matter, the book to be a modernization of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (110-years older than Timeline, btw). If any of us has had fantasies about traveling back in time, we probably would hope to use our “present” knowledge to our advantage. The one thing that would make us unique among the vast population of a past age is that we could “predict the future.” But in Timeline, the great moment – the prediction of total eclipse – never comes.
Instead, we have Professor Johnson, who not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of the 14th Century (not too surprising, given his academic position) but is also master of the chemistry and manufacturing of gunpowder (something of a stretch). We have medieval fanatic Andre Marek being able to believably pass himself off as a (time) native, which is part and parcel of that time-travel fantasy. But can we really accept that, because he has “studied” sword combat, archery, and jousting, he will find himself superior to the knights of 1357 – men whose lives have depended upon expert use of arms? I’m not sure I can.
Back to the present and the “quantum physics” plot theme. David Stern’s great eureka moment is that, when the integrity of glass holding tanks is suspect, they should use weather balloons as structural reinforcement. This was another letdown for anyone reading, racing ahead to find out what his big idea was. First of all, given the description of the problem (glass holding tanks are required for perfectly uniform shielding), I’m not sure plopping a weather balloon into the tanks would be a valid solution. But if it was, wouldn’t the facilities engineers have figured it out already? They must have struggled with the structural integrity of giant glass water tanks all along. If a plastic lining could have bought them a factor-of-safety without threatening symmetry, surely someone would have identified it and sold it as a cost saving measure.
My last complaint is something I glossed over in all my previous reads. Throughout the book, Robert Doniger, founder of the time-traveling organization (ITC) and intellectual driver behind the advances (similar to John Hammond from Jurassic Park, but with more science), is portrayed as an unpleasant and unlikable person. In the end, he gets his just desserts. He is sent back to Castelgard in 1348, when the town is being consumed by the Black Death. It is quite the horrible end; one might say an end one “wouldn’t wish upon their worst enemy.” It is also, unlike being eaten by the very Dinosaurs you’ve had resurrected, only brought about by deliberate action by the other characters. So what has Doniger done that is so evil? Frankly, I’m not sure. He impedes the local government from investigating injury and death at his facilities, but he does so to keep his technological advancements moving forward rather than to avoid being held accountable. He did not inform the students of the potential risk of “transcription errors,” which he justifies because the risk is minimal. In this he’s right; injury from the time travel technology is of trivial concern when compared to the risk of having your head lopped off by an angry knight. He also seems to allow or even encourage letting Stern travel using unsafe equipment before forbidding him to do the same. He says he was “joking” at first, but his legal council (Diane Kramer) doesn’t fully believe him. Finally, his “last straw” seems to be that he withheld information about the financial stake ITC has invested in the archeological endeavors.
So are any of these capital offenses? It may be true that all of ITC, the science, and mankind may be better served with Robert Doniger no longer at ITC’s helm, but executution by plague? That seems a bit harsh. Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to simply cooperate with authorities and have Doniger arrested for his lying to officialdom? It almost seems as though ITC executives Kramer (the lawyer) and Gordon (what was Gordon?) were being set up as sequel villains – people who are willing to kill their boss to keep their technology and their profits alive. Eh, probably not.
I don’t know what it is that draws us to re-read books and re-watch movies. I guess there is something about letting our minds float down a familiar path that is pleasurable. However, this isn’t universal. I know people who re-read books but would never watch a movie a second time (“I’ve already seen it!”). There are people who watch their favorite movies over and over, but wouldn’t waste their time reading a book they’ve “finished.” I like to do both.
*The reference to Charlemagne didn’t help. It was already quite clear that the events of Legends of Eisenwald were supposed to take place well after the time of Charlemagne.
**Also called Tard-Venus or latecomers.