A Game of Thrones, Braveheart, Crusader Kings, Crusader Kings 2, Field of Glory, Field of Glory - Unity, George R. R. Martin, Humphrey Hare, Isabella, Les Rois maudits, Maurice Druon, Neuchâtel, The Accursed Kings, The Iron King, Tour de Nesle
The title of this article is a line from Braveheart. It is delivered by soon-to-be Queen Isabella to the dying Edward I. While witnessing William Wallace’s execution, she tells him that her unborn child is not the offspring of her husband, Edward II, but is the result of a tryst with Wallace. She lets the King go to his grave knowing that his line will die with him.
Now, we all know that fictionalization of history can be used to add character and depth to a series of historical facts. We can’t know what the kings and queens of the 11th and 12th century said to each other, so a film must create entirely fictional dialog. This is understandable. Often, we don’t mind a dramatization going even further afield, advancing a compelling drama that capture the flavor of the times, if not the details. But sometimes a situation goes beyond even the absurd.
When William Wallace was executed, in 1305, Isabella was ten-years-old and still living in France, as of yet still 2-3 year away from her marriage to Edward II. It is unlikely she ever met Wallace. But on the outside chance that she did (when he was visiting France seeking political support), she was probably closer to the age of 5. Although Edward I arranged the betrothal of his own son and the daughter of Philip IV of France, the father had passed on before the marriage ever took place and he, likely, never met his future daughter-in-law either.
Stuffing Isabella into the Braveheart story is entirely unnecessary. She makes an interesting subject on her own and has been the subject of dramatizations starting from Christopher Marlowe’s 1592 play The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer and continuing to the present day. It is one of those present-day accounts I will turn to now.
Lost in Translation
When I was young, I had a bad experience with foreign novels.
There is no language, except English, where I have the proficiency to read anything of complexity. So any non-English novel that I want to read, I must read a translation of it. The first problem is that relatively few books are translated. I don’t have a handy source for my speculations, but I think that the number of non-English books published each year, which are subsequently translated to English and made available in the American market, is in the single-digits (percentage-wise). I’m talking in general, not classic literature, where the scholarly treatment is considerably different. I would think 5% would be a reasonable figure to use.
Once a book is translated, there is then another factor. Not only is the quality of the writing important, but the quality of the translation as well. Again, with classical works, academics will, over generations, work on refining translations to capture various aspects of the original language. But for a popular work, there is likely one translator, hired by a publisher, to do the work. That leaves us, as English-only consumers, as dependent on the translator as we are on the original author for a quality read. A really good translator needs to be not only proficient in both languages, but also should be a skilled writer (of the translated genre, one might imagine) in his own right as well as something of a literary critic.
I honestly don’t remember what caused it, but for years I simply assumed all translated books were going to be tough reads, and avoided them wherever possible. This finally changed in college when I was assigned a rather nice translation of Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir. But even with my prejudice lifted, there are still so many native language books to read that it is rare for me to take up a non-native work.
An Iron King for an Iron Throne?
I digress so because I was looking at some of the more modern dramatizations of the life of Isabella and I found that there are many. One that stood out for me was the author Maurice Druon and his series Les Rois maudits in that, despite being something like six decades old, the novels are receiving current attention. Most noticeable, the author and the series come recommended by George R. R. Martin, citing it as an inspiration for A Game of Thrones.
This last would seem to be more than just coincidental. As Martin discussed his appreciation for Druon and his works, the series was being re-released in English by Martin’s publisher. The “original Game of Thrones” line could be put on covers and sold to fans waiting, desperate and disappointed, for the next book in the actual Song of Fire and Ice series. Whatever the behind the scenes, it works out well for me. Instead of having to try to find used copies of translations from the 1960s, I can order a newly-printed, English version of The Iron King to be delivered to me two days’ hence and enjoy these books that were, until a couple of years ago, decades out of print.
The book is well written and an enjoyable read. This is a compliment not only to the author, but to the translator. The latter, Humphrey Hare, is the original translator of the book; it does not appear that the series was re-translated for the current printing, except that the final book in the series, which was never translated in the first place.
The opening book of the series ties together the execution of the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar (Jacques de Molay) with the crises of succession that began with the Tour de Nesle affair, the death of Philip IV of France, and the questions of inheritance that ultimate fueled the Hundred Years’ War. Historical events are convincingly, while also entertainingly, told. They are also almost certainly not accurate.
The relationship between Edward II and Isabella, as I said, has been developed over the centuries, creating a narrative of how the “She-wolf of France*” was ignored by her weak and homosexual husband, leading her to resent, hate, and ultimately kill him. While she did indeed play a major role in dethroning her own husband, there is plenty of evidence that their marriage was a happy and loving one. They had, together, four children and, when apart, addressed each other in letters using affectionate pet names. Written signs of this affection extend even beyond the date when Edward had abdicated and was imprisoned. Isabella’s role in his death is by no means proven. More likely, established story of today is a combination of political rumor of the time combined with fanciful storytelling from future generations.
Even the titular “curse” may be a combination of a several different, yet similar events. There are even historians that doubt the veracity of the accusations of adultery. The proof of them are confessions obtained by torture, which is not the most reliable source of information.
As improbable as the narrative of Les Rois maudits matching the true events of the day may be, it is nevertheless impossible to prove that things did not take place in such a manner. The story fully fleshes out the tale in a way that is believable, compelling, and fun.
Agreed to Have a Battle
The Tour de Nesle was a political event which would not have counterparts in wargames. It is easy to trace the impact of what happened into the future of Europe. For example, with the parentage of the grandchildren of Phillip IV in doubt, French inheritance would come to emphasize the male relatives over closer relatives through the female relations. The difference in French and English interpretations led to Edward III’s claim to the French throne, a claim that led to the Hundred Years War. It is harder to find a companion game to share in the flavor and timeframe of The Iron King.
Instead, I’ll return to the alternate timeline that I had started earlier. My House Neuchâtel continues to rule Upper Burgundy with an eye to either independence or further prominence within the Holy Roman Empire. By this point we are obviously pretty far afield from any direct relation to historical events.
In fact, in this reality, we find ourselves with the Holy Roman Empire at war with England. King George (350 years too early) of England has managed to get himself excommunicated. Holy Roman Emperor Bořivoj Přemyslid declared war on the Heretic, probably with good reason, but those reasons weren’t shared with me. I saw an opportunity to advance my position.
I managed to “discover” that I had a strong claim on the County of Auvergne, near enough to my coveted “Greater Burgundy,” but currently under the jurisdiction of King George. Having done so, I offered to send my forces in support of Emperor Boris. Now, as far as I know, my claim was rather irrelevant to the whole process. Unlike Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings does not allow a negotiated peace drawing from all sorts of potential concessions. The conclusion of a war results in exactly the peace conditions that were specified when the war was declared. However, I figured coming in on the side of the Emperor would improve my standing in his court, earn me some prestige from my victories, as well as smack England around making it easy to capture Auvergne in some future war. On top of that, the Emperor seemed like he could use the help.
This setup leads a to a battle that is interesting from a strategic perspective in that it engages the vast majority of the troops available to both sides. It is also interesting in that the outcome is by no means preordained. Because of the close match, I’m going to once again create a tactical version of the battle in Field of Glory.
Bringing my Burgundians into the battle gets the two armies very close to evenly-matched in numbers. As the main battle commences, my money was against the Empire. The English have a slight edge in numbers and in organization, although other factors work against them. Reconstructing this fight in FoG(U) creates an even bigger gap.
My first and obvious mistake was that I chose a map too big for the armies and the battle. It having been a while since I set up a random battle, I thought the two armies sounded really big. In fact, they are to the large end of medium. With the large battlefield, it took 7 turns for the two armies to move forward into a reasonable engagement distance. As we’ve seen before, the FoG(U) AI moves aggressively forward, without attempting to keep his armies in line. I, on the other hand, did my best to retain my formation until engagement. In addition to its size, this terrain is probably too flat and open for Southwestern France. In FoG(U), random battle maps are not autogenerated. You must chose from a subset of the existing scenario library.
The last time I tried this, I thought the haphazard AI attack would be their undoing. It turned out not to be. In this case, my own line held together throughout the battle, and I was able to defeat the enemy as the waves came at me. In the end I won a solid victory.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the tactical result again matched the strategic result. Now, I’m not saying this is anything but dumb luck. While there may be factors that predicted a German win in Crusader Kings, there is nothing that translated those factors to the tactical battle. I just find it surprising that this exercise has worked, now, twice in a row.
Death Comes to Us All
In the end, everyone died. First King George, then the Emperor, and the my own Duke. The Emperor’s death, in particular, shook all of Europe. With the child heir now nominal Emperor, factions rose up across Europe trying to place a more capable successor on the imperial throne. Suddenly, the war with a now-dead excommunicated English king seemed like a minor worry. England’s armies had been beaten down enough that, while they were left to retake their lost castles rather unopposed, a truce was eventually declared with no clear winner (a White Peace in EU terms).
Somewhere in here, my aging Duke died leaving his inheritance to his grandson. The claim on the English county died with the elder Duke, leaving the whole episode an exercise in pointlessness. Welcome to the twelfth century.
*The epithet was used by Shakespeare in History of Henry VI, Part III to describe Margaret of Anjou, but was reapplied to Isabella by Thomas Gray in 1757. Isabella is probably most associated with the term today.