Maurice Drouon writes in The Lily and the Lion, as his introduction to the War of the Breton Succession (or, at least, Robert d’Artois’ part in it), that “there were two Kings of France, each with his own Duke of Brittany, as each already had his own King of Scotland.” The Scotland reference is to the succession to the Scottish throne after Robert I (The Bruce)’s death.
In May of 1328, Robert the Bruce and Edward III had signed the Treaty of Edingburgh-Northampton, which recognized Scotland’s independence from England, and Bruce as Scotland’s king, in exchange for a payment of £100,000. The treaty was unpopular, particularly with the group of English nobility whose lands were lost by Scottish decree during the wars. The Scottish Parliament, after the Battle of Bannockburn, had passed a law revoking Scottish titles from all those who continued to fight for the English. This group of malcontents, therefore, became known as “The Disinherited.”
When King Robert died, his throne was inherited by his son David who, at the time, was only five. Robert had willed that his friend and fellow commander, Sir Thomas Randolph, the Earl of Moray, be named regent for his young son. It was only a year after Robert’s passing that James “Black” Douglas, another friend and leading Scottish warlord, also died. The growing weakness in young David’s court emboldened those who thought that Robert’s claim to the throne was itself illegitimate and that Edward Balliol, son of Robert’s predecessor as Scottish King, was the true heir. Balliol found common cause with the Disinherited as well as support from Edward III (who had signed the treaty of Edingburgh-Northampton under pressure from Roger Mortimer, at the time Regent of England but since executed for treason). The “Disinherited” were led by Henry de Beaumont, who was Earl of Buchan through marriage to Alice Comyn, daughter to John Comyn. Beaumont was a veteran of the wars against the Scots, having fought on the side Edward I.
In late 1331, Beaumont began raising an army for a private invasion of Scotland, summoning Edward Balliol from France to ride with him. In July 1332, Beaumont and Balliol heard of the death of the Earl of Moray (the regent), and sailed forth with their army to Kinghorn in Scotland. The attack by sea is said to be a condition of Edward’s (of England, this time) support, as it technically avoided having an English army cross the Scottish border, which would have been in violation of the peace. After landing, Beaumont, Balliol, and their small army marched on Perth.
Camping just across the river Earn, to the south of Perth, Beaumont found himself caught between two Scots armies. Across the river to his north was an army under the new Regent of Scotland, Donald, the Earl of Mar. Advancing from the south was a second army commanded by the Earl of Dunbar. Both armies outnumbered his own. In a bold move, he seized the initiative by crossing the river during the night, forcing Mar’s army to attack him on ground of Beaumont’s choosing.
Mar was blamed for allowing his army to be put at a disadvantage and was even accused of treason. To counter this claim, he attempted to charge forward with his men to demonstrate his leadership and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this turned into a competition between the leaders of the Bruce’s army to see who could enter into battle the fastest.
Concordia res parvae crescent
Playing the battle of Dupplin Moor (as the site of the battle was known) in Field of Glory, I started with the Unity version (FoG(U)) and took the side of the smaller, rebel army. Although I knew they were victorious in the real battle, I assumed that the smaller army would put me at a disadvantage. Not so much, though.
Outnumbered, I wait for the Scottish charge. When it hits, I find that my English longbowmen are quite the warriors and quickly gain for me the advantage.
What I did realize is that playing as the rebels against a royalist AI closely matches the tactics of the historical battle. As I’ve stated before, the FoG(U) AI is considerably more aggressive than its predecessor. Like the competing commanders of old, the Scottish army charged forward while I attempted to maintain my advantageous position on the high ground. Beaumont had chosen to defend on hilly ground deployed in the shape of a crescent, placing his English longbowmen on his wings. These tactics, similar to those which brought victory at the Battle of Boroughbridge, honed the formations that would bring the English victory in the Hundred Years’ War in battles such as Crecy and Agincourt.
In the above screenshot, two out of the three Scottish formations became disorganized as they approached my lines – a historically accurate outcome. I also found my longbowmen to be exceptional at hand-to-hand combat. It’s another bone I have to pick with Field of Glory, although I don’t really know what the numbers are behind it or what would, indeed, make it more accurate. Archer formations aren’t particularly effective at ranged fire. Enemy formations can be picked at a few men at a time and, occasionally, the formation coming under fire deteriorates somewhat, but rarely does ranged combat seem to have a decisive effect on the battle overall. On the other hand, bowmen often seem pretty good once engaged in hand-to-hand combat against other foot formations. To top it off, I’ve often found that my ranged units have movement capabilities which exceed that of mounted troops. By contrast, the real deployment at Dupplin Moor of longbowmen forward and on the wings wound up driving the advancing Scots towards the center of the rebel trap, withdrawing as they went from the punishing fire of the English.
A solid victory for Beaumont and Balliol. It is not terribly off the historical mark.
In my game, once I started fending off the Scottish advance I rolled inevitably towards a victory. I didn’t quite match that oft-quoted 33 casualties suffered by the rebels but, then again, the “casualties” don’t differentiate between killed and wounded, so I can’t say how far off I really am. As satisfying as that might feel as a historical outcome, I didn’t feel so right as a player. Whupping an AI who can’t quite understand the battle which he is a part of is not so satisfying. Instead, I should have picked the Scottish side to play against the computer. It is, after all, the default set up by the scenario maker.
For a brief moment, it seemed that it could go either way, but then the Scottish lines began to break.
Unfortunately for the solo player, the game is almost as lopsided played from the other direction. You might see a little bit of my strategy from my minimap in the screenshot above. I could have tried to play historically, but remember I just saw that the advantage in this scenario was with the rebels. I therefore advanced cautiously, trying to keep my lines mostly intact with my army in echelon so that I hit what appeared to be the enemy’s stronger left wing first.
In this second version, there was some more back-and-forth initially. My own forces were breaking at least as fast as the enemies. Of course, I have more units to spare, so I’m not entirely displeased with this result. At some point, a few turns in, the lines settled into a shoving match and I wasn’t seeing units breaking from either side. For a brief moment, I though the AI might pull off something, but then his forces began to break again, while my own began to advance around, and then crumble, his flanks.
Switching sides, the lopsided victory switched sides with me. One interesting note is that, even in victory, my losses were more than double that of my enemy.
A Crescent Still Abides
A good part of the AI’s problem was its new-found aggressiveness. One of the keys to rebel victory was the fact that Beaumont held the high ground and forced the Scots to come to him. The FoG(U) AI, however, immediately charges down its hills and into the flat ground to engage me on my terms. I like to hold my formation until contact. The AI has no such desire. This, of course, begs the question – would the old FoG AI, being overall more timid, fare better with this scenario?
The AI, being more passive, did stick to his high ground. He didn’t like the feel of that crescent formation, however, and worked to straighten out his battle line before I engaged.
I replayed the scenario one final time using the original Field of Glory. I tried to play my Scottish loyalists much the same as against the FoG(U) version of the AI. The screenshot shows that my far right formation got a bit disheveled during the advance. This was largely due to some UI mismanagement (a frequent problem with the original version of FoG) whereby portions of that formation went other than where I wanted them. Realizing I had a mess on my hands, I figure it is some approximation of that zeal of the loyalist commanders to be first into the fray.
In the end, the result was much the same. The rebels held out a little longer, likely explaining the higher casualties on both sides of the field.
In an obvious display of the preferences of that AI, my opponent holds his ground, but shuffles his units to form a straight defensive line. The move nullifies the historically-decisive position of the longbows, forward on the wings. As I said above, though, I’m not sure FoG adequately simulates the use of longbows anyway. The end tally was not dissimilar to the results versus FoG(U). The actual details of the battle reflected that very different AI strategy.
Back in the book, Druon obviously intended at the time he wrote it for The Lily and the Lion to be the final “chapter” in The Accursed Kings. We, the readers, rapidly advance from the main events of the series (the rapid demise of all the heirs to Philip the Fair’s throne) into the true beginnings of the Hundred Years War. One piece of the story is tied off with the death of Robert of Artois (with the author is obviously being anguished by this), having thrown the entire Western world into war for, in the end, nothing. Robert died of infection after a wound suffered in a fairly minor battle. He was still an exile and his family imprisoned in France. The other piece of the story ends with the death of Jean I the Posthumous. History itself records that he died in infancy. If once assumes, as the series does, that he actually survived, living in secrecy, then he becomes the last-to-go of the male heirs of Philip the Fair.
I plan to take a short break before moving on to the final book in the series. I am particularly interested in the change in translator for the final book. Will it still read the same, or is Mr. Humprey Hare’s (I do love that name) voice a critical part of what makes Druon a success in English?
Being, at the time, his final book, Druon seems to have made some extra effort in tying the narrative to modern themes. Early on in the book, he makes a defense (and to me, a surprising one) of individual sovereignty as the basis for the Divine Right of Kings. People struggled, he suggests, with the assassination of Edward II not only because he was ordained by God to be regent, but because if they (the politicos of the Middle Ages) choose to toss their kings aside willy-nilly, it is ultimately the people’s choice to accept the rule of a king in the first place. In other words, to challenge the rule of an individual king was to challenge the rule of all kings.
It is, perhaps, an even more interesting commentary today than it was when he wrote it. In 1960, when the book was published, individual sovereignty as a basis for democracy was hardly controversial. Even in Europe, where the authority of the democratic State often inherited the power of the monarchies which they replaced, the notion of the supremacy of the individual was held in contrast to tyranny.
What a difference a half-a-century makes.
Now, at least in America, a statement about the sovereignty of individuals is likely going to be interpreted as partisan, if not “extreme.” Assuming the appellation of a “sovereign citizen of the United States,” essentially what in 1960 would have been the basis of your rights as a voter, is now as-likely-as-not to get you put on a watch list from the Southern Poverty Law Center as some kind of – well, I’m not sure exactly. A racist, anti-Semite, I suppose.
The statement sourcing the divine right of kings from individual sovereignty is simply stated and, while it doesn’t quite fit with the modern conceptualization of the French, it was written before my time here on earth. It is even more surprising to me to have it stated, as it was so matter-of-factly, regarding the mentality Medieval Europeans. Some further reading showed me that this is a valid claim. Writings from this time do survive and demonstrate Medieval thinkers, themselves extending the principles of Aristotle and the philosophers of Rome, deriving imperial power from the will of the people. Concurrent with the events in these stories, for example, Marsilius of Padua was pushing society’s understand of sovereignty towards something like enlightenment-era republicanism, including concepts such as the right of revolution.
I still have to wonder whether the actual “people,” as opposed to merely those of sufficiently royal blood to actually challenge the authority of kings, really felt that kings ultimately answered to them. It seems more likely that these ideas would be confined to barons and such, outside of the occasional republican governments formed during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
The other significant “modern” reference that got me thinking was Druon’s comparison of the massive French loss at Sluys to the French defeat by the Germans in 1940. In both cases, Druon argues, the French had an equivalent if not superior force to work with. In both cases, the French commanders were advised that their choice of strategy was an incorrect one. In both cases, hubris by French leadership resulted in a massive loss that would have a devastating impact on the French nation for years to come. In 1960, people still remembered the military power that France once had. Again, to the modern ear, talk of France’s military prowess often rings false.
The Thousand Wars of Old
With Druon drawing his series to an end, even if that end is a false one, I’ll reflect on one more item that I had mentioned up front. The current reprinting of this series comes with an endorsement from George R. R. Martin, where he calls it the “original Game of Thrones.” In that first article, I said that I was pleased that this series is available in a current print run, however that may have come about. The longer this has sat with me, though, the more it has soured a little.
Each book in the series has a forward written by Martin. In fact, it is the same forward in every book. As I read through successive books, I come to the realization that this story isn’t A Game of Thrones. Not really. Oh sure, there are parallels. It may even be clear that Martin got some of his inspiration from having read The Accursed Kings, even without his declaration in the forward. But this series is more than A Game of Throne‘s drama, it is historical fiction. While much of Druon’s fiction is speculative, it is strongly anchored in historical fact (supported further by his footnotes and postscripts). It is also a story that focuses on the theme of the small decisions and petty politics that plunged Europe into the Hundred Years War. At its heart, the story is much more of a personal one than the tales of Westeros.
There’s another kicker. While we know that in The Accursed Kings, just like in A Game of Thrones, everybody dies in the end, for The Accursed Kings we could find out at any time exactly when any particular character dies, and how, and under what circumstances. Even if you avoid referencing Wikipedia throughout, there really isn’t any question about who is the real heir to the Iron Throne, um, I mean throne of France. It’s only a question of how the argument plays out. There are no great reveals waiting for us in future episodes of The Accursed Kings.
So it is a very different experience and very different series, as well it should be. I’m glad that The Accursed Kings is so much more than the “original Game of Thrones.” Problem is, I feel a little bit cheapened that it took Martin and that provocative assertion to draw me in in the first place. Let’s be honest, I never would have purchased a 60-year-old series translated from a foreign language without George’s prodding. I wish I was the kind of person that I would have, but I’m not. I feel just a little bit bad about that.
I’m having a similar experience on Netflix at the moment, but I’ll save that unburdening for another day.