Born: April 2, 742

Died: January 28, 814

Frankish King and Emperor

Charles the Great was the son of Pepin, the first king of the Carolingian empire. Pepin’s domains at his peak of power covered most of present-day France, in addition to Belgium and areas of Germany. The single ruler of this particular extensive kingdom from 771, Charlemagne was above all a war leader, expected to take his army on campaign every year. He is reckoned to have undertaken 30 campaigns in person in the course of his sovereignty – to maintain his authority, expand his domains, and forcibly spread the Christian faith.

Charlemagne had no standing army and no bureaucracy, however he achieved a high degree of organization and the assembly and supply of his forces. His chief nobles, the counts, were responsible for raising the various soldiers which he needed, with equipment for each and every man. The warriors brought some food with them, while extra supplies were requisitioned from landowners. The Army typically assembled in the spring season and summer and fought in the autumn. Charlemagne continuously gathered intelligence on the domain in which he intended to fight and normally prepared careful plans. He usually divided his forces in two or more columns when advancing into hostile territory, presumably mainly because a smaller sized body of men would find it easier to contend with the difficulties of movement and supply. Charlemagne’s horse cavalry were his essential troops. Retainers of the Frankish nobles, the armored horsemen were obliged to show up prepared for military service when required by the king. Armed with a lance, sword, as well as shield, they fought mounted, relying on stirrups and high-back saddle to maintain a stable seat in combat. Pitched battles were unusual, campaigns commonly comprised of skirmishes, assaults on bastioned settlements, resisting or avoiding ambushes, and much laying to waste towns and countryside. Although in the first quarter century of his sovereignty Charlemagne commanded his army in person, he was not a ruler renowned for prowess in face-to-face combat. His real qualities lay in his authority, organization, willpower, and ruthless persistence.

Charlemagne fought several wars in opposition to typically inferior resistance around his extensive borders, but even so success was certainly not assured. He faced challenging opposition from insurgents and his resources were overstretched against a variety of opponents. The campaign in which Charlemagne trampled over the Lombard kingdom of North Italy in 773 – 74 exemplified unhesitating military action. After marching across Alpine passes in columns, the Franks who emerged on the north Italian plane were too numerous for the enemy to take on. Charlemagne came to a halt at the Lombard capital, Pavia, and laid siege to the city until it capitulated. Even though further campaigns in Italy against Lombards and Byzantines were needed, a political arrangement he imposed held firm, establishing Frankish control of the northern half of Italy. Campaigning in Iberia turned out to be more challenging. Virtually all of Spain was subjected to Muslim rule, and divisions between the Arabs and the few small Christian states that did exist gave Charlemagne an opportunity to step in. But the resulting journey in northern Spain in 778 was one of the most unfortunate disasters of his career.

At the end of an unsuccessful foray to Zaragoza, he was leading his military straight back across the Pyrenees in the rearguard when his forces were ambushed and massacred. The death of prominent Frankish nobles in this attack provided material for a well-known medieval epic: The Song of Roland. It was considered embarrassing to have fallen into this sort of trap. Later in his reign, the Franks with success occupied a protective buffer zone south of the Pyrenees, including Barcelona. Most of Charlemagne’s wars were aimed across the open eastern frontier of his domains, most importantly against Saxons. These independent, pagan groups were repeatedly terrorized by Charlemagne’s columns, who were always ready to rebel again when the Franks were distracted. The resistance angered Charlemagne, who is guilty of an appalling massacre of 4,500 Saxons at Verden in 782. The submission of the inspired guerrilla leader Widukind in 785 did not end the opposition, but that marked the point at which it could no longer succeed.

By the 790s Charlemagne had begun to delegate military operations to his sons or to nobles. He was not personally involved in demolishing the nomads who dominated the Danube Valley, but he did plan to construct a canal linking the Rhine and Danube to facilitate the movement of his troops – an engineering undertaking that proved to be well outside the Frank’s engineering capabilities. By 800, when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by the Pope, the age of yearly campaigns was coming to a close, as was his individual command of army operations. It established his kingdom into an empire stretching as far south of central Italy and Barcelona and as far east as the Elbe. To ensure the succession to his throne, Charlemagne crowned his son Louis the Pious as co-Emperor. When Charlemagne died the following year in 813, Louis succeeded him.


The Age of the Shoguns

There are seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, love, grief, fear, and hate, and if a man does not give way to these he can be called patient… I have practised patience.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616)

Japan, after the death of its feudal overlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1535–98), was threatened by anarchy. A council of five co-regents had been nominated by Hideyoshi to rule Japan after his death and during the minority of his son Toyotomi Hideyori. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1616), as head of the regency council, emerged as a dominant figure but Ishida Mitsunari (1563–1600), another council member, challenged his authority.

Mitsunari and Ieyasu were supported by the war lords of, respectively, western and eastern Japan, and came to do battle at Sekigahara, a narrow pass of strategic importance between Lake Biwa and Nagoya in central Japan on 21 October 1600. At about 8 a.m, as the mists cleared after a night of driving rain, the first shots of musketry were heard. The contest between the 80,000-strong army of the west and the slightly smaller army of the east was even until midday. But Ieyasu’s espionage network, ahead of the battle, had already persuaded elements of the ‘army of the west’ to defect. A force on the hill above that army’s southern line advanced on its own allies and delivered the victory to Ieyasu.

Mitsunari’s defeat led to his execution and Ieyasu either banished the nobles who had supported him or deprived them of their lands. He then redistributed the fiefdoms among his own supporters. But since many feudal nobles supported Hideyori’s legitimacy the ambitious, but cautious, Ieyasu allowed the seven-year-old boy to keep his father’s stronghold, Osaka castle, and gave him his granddaughter in marriage. The battle was the last major opposition to Tokugawa power. The emperor, whose power was merely nominal, confirmed Ieyasu’s authority when, in 1603, he appointed him shogun – supreme military ruler of Japan. When Ieyasu retired in 1605 he ensured that the title of shogun was transferred to his son Tokugawa Hidetada. A dynasty had therefore been established but Ieyasu retained effective control until his death.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century Japan had dissolved into a collection of some 400 effectively independent states and the emperor’s authority was just a formality. But Japanese attempts at establishing central authority dated back to the country’s emergence as a distinctive civilization in the fifth and sixth centuries AD. The constitution of 604 had asserted the emperor’s authority over the nobility, the national reforms of 646 established the emperor’s title to all Japanese land, and Nara became the country’s administrative capital. Buddhism, imported from China through the adjacent Korean peninsula, was used to elevate imperial power. But Japan, unlike Korea, failed to transplant the much-admired Chinese example of a hierarchical and centralized administration. Buddhist monasteries and great families were granted private estates as a reward for crown service and this diminished the imperial patrimony. In 794 the emperors decided to move their court to the new capital of Heian (Kyoto) in order to escape the political influence of Buddhist monks at Nara. However, they then found themselves dominated by the Fujiwara clan, whose members intermarried with the imperial family and became the country’s predominant power. The absence of a central army meant that the country’s provinces were run by the monasteries and by the private armies of nobles. Samurai soldiers roamed the countryside and observed their own chivalric code. By the twelfth century, a time when Fujiwara power was waning, the samurai were influential in court politics.

Shoguns, as supreme military rulers, ruled with the aid of provincial subordinates – the shugo. The flow of power to the peripheries proved to be a chronic feature of Japanese political and military life: the shugo established themselves as regional rulers and the shoguns’ power diminished. But the shugo themselves lost their authority in the provinces after the civil war (1467–77) caused by a quarrel about the shogunate succession. The real victors were a new class of feudal warriors and provincial power-brokers known as the daimyo. Samurai warriors provided the daimyo with private armies, which led to internecine warfare. They in turn, as befitted their vassal status, received their own small estates. In the west such feudalism had led to national legal and political structures but Japanese feudalism militated against any such authority. Daimyo castles dominated their particular areas as centres for trade, urban development and the arts. Within their fortresses some of the daimyo became influential patrons of the ritualized Noh drama, the tea ceremonies, painting and prose romances which gave Japan a national cultural style despite the fragmentation so evident elsewhere.

The man who ended the chaos by establishing a centralized despotism started life as a victim of the age of Japanese anarchy. Tokugawa Ieyasu was born into a struggling warrior family and his father’s alliances meant that Ieyasu’s mother was separated from the family when her son was two. At the age of seven he became a hostage of the powerful Imagawa clan and two years afterwards Ieyasu’s father was killed by one of his vassals. The Imagawa educated Ieyasu as both warrior and administrator and his earliest campaigns were waged on behalf of the clan. But the age’s dominant figure was Oda Nobunaga, with whom Ieyasu formed an alliance after Nobunaga’s defeat of the Imagawa. Nobunaga had captured Kyoto and started an anti-Buddhist campaign, slaughtering monks and destroying temples. The Portuguese had by now introduced firearms into the country: muskets were reproduced and tactics changed. Nobunaga exploited these developments. The castle of Azuchi, built as his base on the shores of Lake Biwa in central Japan, showed the novel quality of his power. Earlier castles were defensive citadels built in remote mountain strongholds but Azuchi, built on the plains, asserted political and administrative order rather than just military control. Ieyasu was able to return to his family’s estates, near Nagoya on the central east coast, where he established a tax regime and a system of civilian administration to run his small army. He replaced the Imagawa during the 1570s as the dominant regional power so that he became the daimyo in charge of a prosperous and well-populated area.

Nobunaga, following an attack by one of his vassals, died in 1582 and Toyotomi Hideyoshi emerged as his successor within the Oda territories. During the 1580s Hideyoshi extended his authority over the daimyo of south-west Japan and his defeat of the Hojo clan enabled him to consolidate control of eastern Japan. Hideyoshi suggested that his ally Ieyasu should surrender his coastal provinces in return for the Hojo lands further east and the Tokugawa vassals and army were therefore transferred to land centred on the fishing village of Edo (Tokyo).

Hideyoshi in his vast domain and Ieyasu in his compact one followed policies designed to sustain their authority. Hideyoshi disarmed the peasantry and insisted that the samurai should now live in castle towns rather than roam the countryside ever ready to lend support to rural rebellions. A land survey yielded new taxes and Hideyoshi moved to suppress the Christian faith established in Japan by the Portuguese in 1572. Ieyasu placed large tracts of land under the direct administration of his own officials, drew up land surveys, and confiscated villagers’ weapons. Artisans and businessmen were encouraged to come and work in his new castle town.

After his victory at Sekigahara Ieyasu issued regulations and established administrative bodies which controlled the activities of the nobility, the Buddhist clergy and the daimyo. His aim was the creation of a stable and self-sufficient state by autocratic means: farming and trade were segregated, private investment banned and different parts of the country were only meant to communicate with each other by travelling along the strictly controlled five Imperial highways which converged on Ieyasu’s court. The Japanese were stopped from travelling abroad and, after the ban on the building of large ships (1638), had few means of travel to tempt them. Japanese hostility to trade grew since they saw from the examples of Goa, Malacca and Macau how missionaries always followed in the traders’ footsteps. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary, had first arrived in Japan in 1549 and Christianization had been rapid. By 1615 some half a million of Japan’s eighteen-million population were Christian. Ieyasu embarked on a systematic anti-Christian policy which later culminated in the slaughter of 37,000 Japanese Christians at Hara castle near Nagasaki after Christian peasants, aided by samurai mercenaries, rose in rebellion. Three thousand one hundred and twenty-five officially recognized Catholic martyrdoms occurred during the Tokugawa era. All Japanese now had to register at local Buddhist temples and alien faiths were proscribed.

The need to control the daimyo ensured that both Ieyasu and his son kept them hard at work building, extending and embellishing the castle at Edo. By the time of Ieyasu’s death it was the world’s largest castle. Surrounding it were the mansions in which the daimyo lived as virtual hostages. The issue of the succession to Hidetada still plagued his father, especially when Toyotomi Hideyori attained his majority in 1614. The seventy-one-year-old warrior therefore led an army to seize Osaka castle and finally crush the Toyotomi clan with the help of Hidetada, who raised an army of 90,000 warriors. After a year-long campaign the castle fell and Hideyori, along with his family, committed suicide.

Ieyasu established the isolationism of the Edo period (1603–1867), which was dominated by the Tokugawa shogunate and as a prolonged period of peace is without parallel in advanced societies. Economically, the experiment was successful for a long time: cities boomed and agriculture expanded. The population grew to some thirty million by the early eighteenth century, but with virtually no foreign trade the state had to be financed almost exclusively from agricultural taxes whose burdens caused many peasants to leave the land. Samurai fell into debt and rural discontent spread. The peace meant that the army was largely redundant and the educated samurai joined the ranks of the bureaucrats who ran the highly centralized administration created by Ieyasu and which remains in place today. This concentration of power also produced enormous powers of patronage which proved to be another longterm national legacy. Japan’s introspective sense of its cultural uniqueness – and of its distinctiveness among its Asian neighbours – deepened during this period. But keeping the west at bay proved a high-cost policy. Japan could not assimilate western technology on its own terms. And western technology meant western power. A secluded society grew vulnerable to the feared ‘barbarian’.

Middle Ages – Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers



Border Reiver Surname Map

Frontiers were different in the middle ages. Far more porous and less formal, they also depended on local relationships as much as national, either with individual lords or corporations like the great abbeys. And the Anglo-Scottish border made less sense than most. It divided people who were essentially similar, spoke the same language, farmed in the same way and for centuries had formed part of the old kingdom of Northumbria. It was the magnetic ambitions of the Gaelic-speaking kings in the north and the dynasties to the south which had pulled this polity apart and eventually drew a frontier line along the Tweed and the Cheviot tops.

The battle of Carham in 1018 is seen as a convenient watershed for the history of the border. In a bloody fight by the Tweed near Kelso, the spearmen of Northumbria were cut to pieces by Malcolm II of Scotland’s axemen. The Scottish annexation of the Tweed Basin was never seriously in doubt after that date and even though all sorts of anomalies (to say nothing of long-term English occupation in the future) remained, kings in the north gradually asserted themselves over the Borders.

In the later eleventh century William the Conqueror and his sons had difficulty in gaining control of the north of their new kingdom. It lay far from their power-base around London and still attracted the ambitious attention of the Scandinavian dynasty which had ruled England in the first half of the eleventh century. But the Norman kings moved to meet the expansiveness of the macMalcolm dynasty and William Rufus reclaimed Carlisle, making it a plantation town. Communities of Flemings, Normans and Irish settlers were given land in the old Roman city, the castle was rebuilt and the walls repaired. At the eastern end of the Hexham Gap, on the site of the fort on Hadrian’s Wall known as Pons Aelius, William Rufus’ brother, Robert Curthose, built a new castle. Rising on the high ground to the north of the Tyne Gorge, the Newcastle protected the lowest crossing point over the river. In this way Northumberland and north Cumberland were also understood as potential areas of dispute and conflict. This status was confirmed throughout the twelfth century by the macMalcolm kings’ claims on both areas. Often they were successful (due in large part to English distraction and weakness) and David I controlled much of the north of England. In 1153 he died in Carlisle Castle. But by 1157 the northern counties were back in English hands.

Control on either side of the border depended on a series of interlocking relationships of obligation. The church played a clear and progressively determinant role in drawing the Borders into Scotland and the northern counties into England. The bishops of St Andrews and Glasgow claimed independence from the Archbishops of York by maintaining pressure on the papacy in Rome, and they insisted on making all the important ecclesiastical appointments in the Borders. The jurisdiction of the Prince-Bishops of Durham extended right up to the Tweed (and in places beyond it) and they built a powerful castle at Norham to protect what they owned. As much as any other agency the church helped make the border a political reality.

In 1235 Alexander II married Joan, sister of Henry III of England. Two years later he agreed to the terms of the Treaty of York. In return for lands in Cumbria and the right to hang on to the old Liberty of Tynedale (as vassals of the English king), Alexander surrendered all of his claims to the earldom of Northumbria. The line of the Anglo-Scottish frontier was at last settled on the Tweed in the north-east and the Cheviot watershed, the Liddel Water and the little River Sark in the south-west.

This consolidation persuaded kings and their counsellors to organise. To cope with wrongdoing by Englishmen in Scotland and vice versa, the neighbouring jurisdictions needed a special legal mechanism. In 1248 six Scottish knights met with six English knights to discuss the formulation of what became known as the ‘laws of the marches’, and the following year these were codified and promulgated. In essence they insisted on the return of fugitives from justice, the recovery of debt and the regular production of accused parties at the ancient trysting places on the border line. Some of these, like the Reddenburn near Kelso, were well established and well known. Between 1249 and 1596 the laws of the marches were reviewed and recodified eight times.

Broadly the central transaction was simple. If an Englishman committed a crime in Scotland, for example a robbery, the Scot who had been robbed complained to the Scottish authorities. They in turn passed on the case to their English equivalent, who then investigated. If the charge was found to have substance, the English authorities were bound to produce the accused at a trysting place to answer for it. When it was followed through, this principle could work well and fairly. But it was not always followed through.

This comparatively civilised spirit of international cooperation did not last long. After the death of Alexander Ill’s only close heir, the little Maid of Norway, and the harassed and miserable reign of King John, war clouds began to gather over the Borders. In 1296 Edward I arrived on the banks of the Tweed at the head of a huge army, probably the largest to invade Scotland since Agricola’s legions marched north. While English armoured knights took Berwick in a matter of hours, riding right over the top of flimsy defences, no more than ‘a ditch and a barricade of boards’, a Scottish army mustered at Caddonlea near Galashiels. Less than half the size of Edward’s force, the Scots had no intention of moving east to confront him. Instead they adopted a strategy which would become standard. In their council of war at the camp at Caddonlea, the seven earls who led the Scots decided to attack England’s western frontier, advancing as far as Carlisle, and – redoubling the misery of ordinary Borderers – to burn, steal and kill in the countryside around. There was no escape, it seemed.

Between 1296 and 1328, what became known as the Wars of Independence trailed destruction in their wake, and on both sides of the border as armies crossed and recrossed. After the dreadful summers of 1315 and 1316 and the failure of the harvests, and the frequent passing of rapacious regiments of soldiers, ordinary Borderers must have despaired. These 34 years of destruction, the span of almost two generations, were another turning point, a time when the fundamental nature of society changed – and for the worse.

What did farmers and their families do in the face of an approaching army or raiding party? The sources are scant, almost silent. Chroniclers recorded the burning of dozens (sometimes hundreds) of farms, villages and towns, the beseiging of castles and the outcome of battles, but they have little or nothing to say about the people caught in this incessant crossfire. They must have fled. When Edward I returned to Berwick in 1298, it was said that the town was deserted, and when the Scots were mustering to raid into north Cumberland after Bannockburn, the English king’s officers assisted in moving farmers and their stock south and out of the way. This was almost certainly a general pattern. Quickly gathering up what was valuable and portable and driving their beasts before them, farmers and their families must have retreated to remote places and hid and sheltered as best they could. Perhaps they made for the summer sheilings up on the high pasture. Foraging parties will have found some but at least there was a chance of survival.

In 1308 Edward II was at York, ordering his sheriffs of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland to raise ‘posses’ to repel and pursue raiders, but not lead their men into Scotland unless absolutely necessary. This was most likely a measure to discourage the desperate, bands of riders looking to lift cattle after their own had gone. Government papers carried reports that English borderers were forming criminal alliances with Scots raiders, becoming ‘their companions and guides’, and sharing in plundered goods and stock. Simmering under the surface was a question of loyalty. Were Borderers more likely to be loyal to their surnames and their neighbours than to their nationality? It seems so.

In November 1315, after the first sunless summer and its unripened harvest, Edward II wrote to the Bishop of Durham asking that he forbid his tenants on the border from making local truces with their Scots neighbours. So that some sort of subsistence agriculture could go on, it appears that landowners had been reaching accommodations with each other, people they knew well. ‘The calamitous and helpless state’ of the people had driven them to ignore the state of war between England and Scotland and ignore their king’s wishes. And no wonder.

Famine had one thing to recommend it. It had at least prevented Edward II from reinvading Scotland in pursuit of revenge in the year following Bannockburn, but it probably encouraged more raiding across the border. Edmund de Caillou, the Captain of Berwick and a Gascon serving in the English army, led an expedition up the Tweed as far as the mouth of Teviotdale and Jedburgh. Returning with many head of cattle and much plunder, he was intercepted by Sir James Douglas. As a deliberate tactic the Scots commander sought out the Gascon and fought him in what amounted to a single combat. Douglas’ force was much smaller and he needed to decapitate the English raiders if he could. And he did.

A familiar pattern of raid and reprisal began to establish itself. Sometimes it baffled outsiders – and locals. In July 1317 two Italian cardinals were sent by the new Pope, John XXII, to England and Scotland to attempt to broker a peace and gather support for a crusade. Travelling through Northumberland, John de Ossa and Luca de Fieschi were ambushed by ‘banditti’. When confronted by two urbane Italian princes of the church in their scarlet skullcaps, the ‘banditti’ were somewhat nonplussed. Of course they robbed them of everything worth having, but failed to see the potential for a large ransom. Instead they abducted two local lords and left the cardinals, no doubt dazed but relieved, standing in the road.

No medieval community could survive a perpetual state of war and after another abortive English invasion in 1319, the terms of a truce were hammered out at Newcastle. Local contact between English and Scottish borderers was forbidden but the general heads of agreement look very much like a restatement and reinstatement of the laws of the marches. For the first time the appointment of officers to administer them is recorded. Known as ‘Conservators of the Truce’, two were drawn from Cumberland and Westmorland and four from Northumberland. They were bound to hear complaints about truce breakers, investigate them and seize and detain whoever was believed to have serious charges to face. So far so familiar. But 1319 saw an early organisational structure created to complement the old laws of the marches. These Conservators sound very like versions of the later March Wardens, the royal officers who would become central figures in sixteenth-century reiver society. No record of matching Scottish appointments survive, but for the reciprocal arrangements to work at all, these were likely to have been in place.

The arrangements did not work in 1322 when the truce was shattered by Edward II and his invading army. His men wasted the countryside as far north as Leith, but a year later negotiations resumed. Contact between Scots and English was again expressly forbidden – although one concession was made to practicality. The Conservators might meet their opposite numbers and hold ‘truce days’ to transact business. These could be held at the ancient trysting places along the border – at Kershope, Carter Bar and Reddenburn and elsewhere. By 1327 a famous name appeared on the scene. Henry de Percy was appointed as ‘the Principal Keeper of the Truce’ and paid 1,000 merks to maintain 100 men-at-arms and their ‘hobelars’ or ponies. The institutions of reiver society were slowly taking shape.

Another famous Border name emerged in the early fourteenth century. The Douglas family had been steadfast supporters of Robert de Bruce and tradition holds that the red heart in the centre of their coat of arms represents the great king’s. After his death from leprosy in 1328, Bruce’s heart was cut out of the hideous, decaying corpse and taken on crusade against the Moors in Spain by the Douglases. For many years the king had been under sentence of excommunication for his murder of John Comyn at the altar of Greyfriars Church in Dumfries, and even in death it seems that Bruce’s remains were employed in penitent works.

After Bannockburn, the Douglases received more material rewards, taking over ownership of the forests of Selkirk, Traquair and Ettrick in 1321-22. By the end of the fourteenth century, they had built up a wide patrimony which included estates in Teviotdale, Eskdale, Lauderdale and around Kelso. Over in the west a closely related branch of the family became powerful in Wigtownshire, the wonderfully named Archibald the Grim taking the old title of Lord of Galloway. This was all a deliberate but dangerous royal policy. To buttress the border, Scottish kings needed bulwarks, concentrations of substantial military capability, and so on the Scottish side, the Douglases grew mighty – and as war rumbled wearily on they became mightier still.

Robert de Bruce and his immediate successors were forced to contend with a serious dynastic complication. Edward Balliol had a legitimate claim to the throne of Scotland, and as the son of King John, it was in some ways a better claim than Bruce’s. After the hideous murder of his father, Edward III of England and his counsellors took over the simmering war with Scotland, and they found Edward Balliol a very handy political pawn. And because of geography and Balliol’s own claims to family property, much of this fascinating political subplot was played out across the Borders landscape.

Salian Monarchy, 1024–1137



Graham Turner


Henry II’s lack of children raised concern during his reign over the succession. The response was similar to that at the end of the Carolingian line: a meeting was organized at Kamba on the Rhine opposite Oppenheim in the summer of 1024 by the inner circle comprising Henry’s widow, Kunigunde, her brothers the duke of Bavaria and counts of Luxembourg and Mainz, and key bishops. The Salians were the only viable candidates. They were favoured by Kunigunde and her relations, and were backed by the Lorraine aristocracy, perhaps because of their shared roots in the Rhineland. There was currently no duke of Franconia since this post had been retained directly by the king since 939, while Swabia was held by a minor at that point. The Saxons, Italians and Slavs appear to have stayed away. Consequently, the proceedings became a discreet test of how much support the two Salian branches could muster. Conrad (II) the Elder, heading the junior Salian branch based at Speyer, emerged as the favourite allegedly because he already had a son. Conrad the Younger of the senior (older) Worms branch left Kamba with his supporters before the result was announced publicly, thereby preserving the appearance of unanimity. The Saxons continued to maintain their distance as in 1002, requiring Conrad II to secure their acceptance separately at Minden in December. Conrad encountered difficulties broadly similar to Henry I a century previously, but on a far wider scale because he succeeded to Italy as well as Germany, and inherited Henry II’s claims to Burgundy. Opposition in Swabia only ended when its duke, Ernst, was killed in 1030, and it took a further two years for Conrad to secure both Italy and Burgundy.


Conrad’s success confirmed the Empire as a hierarchy of three principal kingdoms headed by Germany, Italy and Burgundy. The challenge of governance was now even greater than under the Ottonians. The expanded size of the realm added to the difficulties of governing through personal presence. Meanwhile, the lordly hierarchy had lengthened and its members had become more numerous. There were now several pushy new families who had the power though not yet the status of dukes, achieved by acquiring several counties and placing relations in the imperial church. In addition to the Salians themselves, these included the Ekkehardiner at Meissen, the Luxembourgs, Ezzonids, Babenbergs and Welfs. There were also more numerous and distinct lesser nobles, plus the class of servile ministeriales emerging about 1020. These were not, as once thought, a royal creation to free the king from dependency on the great lords, but instead ministeriales were promoted by the imperial clergy. Bishops and abbots selected able men of unfree status and enfeoffed them with resources to enable them to serve as knights or administrators. The Salians also began employing ministeriales to administer royal domains and garrison the new castles built in the 1060s. The ministeriales gradually acquired other privileges, embraced an aristocratic ethos, and eventually converted their relationship based on servitude into one of more conventional vassalage to fuse with other lesser nobles as knights and barons by about 1300.

It would be wrong to interpret the ministeriales as the potential staff required to create a centralized monarchy. They were indeed used to oversee more intensive management of royal domains, notably in Saxony. However, the Salians were themselves a product of the same political culture as their lords. There was no blueprint for a centralized state to follow, nor evidence that anyone thought such a structure was superior. Instead, Conrad and his successors tried to improve established methods by making it harder for lords to refuse royal commands. Conrad’s well-known articulation of the Empire as ‘an enduring crown’ was one element in this, as was the increasing emphasis on royal authority, underpinned by a more elevated, sacral monarchical image.

Conrad remained in the late Ottonian mould of an emperor touring the Empire to meet lordly expectations of good kingship. One-fifth of his trips were to Saxony, where the local lords clearly resented the Salian accession and their displacement to the outer circle. This paid off, and Henry III’s accession in 1039 resembled a triumphal progress. Conrad also returned to the earlier policy of concentrating duchies in royal hands as they became vacant: Bavaria in 1027, Swabia in 1038 and Carinthia in 1039. All three passed along with Franconia to Henry III on his accession, but he broke past practice by giving them away, keeping only Bavaria.

Bavaria was held by a king or his son for 46 years between 1002 and 1125, with the other six individuals chosen from close allies, though four had to be deposed after brief periods by the king. Meanwhile, the Salians continued Henry II’s practice of promoting Bamberg, Eichstätt and other Bavarian bishops as counterweights. This seems to have worked well and Henry IV had little difficulty retaining their loyalty after 1075, unlike Saxony, where the policy of backing the archbishop of Bremen simply antagonized local lords further and contributed to the Saxon revolt in 1073.

This policy represented a fundamental shift from using ducal jurisdictions directly to a more indirect management of the ducal elite. It reduced friction by accepting the trend to hereditary possession, which was already clearly established in Lorraine and soon also Swabia. The king retained powers of confirmation, but local ‘elections’ were now far more like homage ceremonies where the new duke sought acceptance from the lesser lords. Ducal power rested on possession of significant allodial property, much of it often former royal domains, as well as clearer political jurisdiction over the lesser nobles.

However, the ducal elite faced harsher punishments if they abused their new autonomy. The Ottonians had operated what was, essentially, a ‘two strikes’ policy with only repeat offenders facing serious consequences, though even here exceptions were made, as in the case of Heinrich the Quarrelsome. This was no longer possible under the more elevated concept of monarchy cultivated by the Salians. Rebellion ceased to be a personal dispute over status and became an affront to divine order. It was harder to forgive wrongdoers who were now considered sinners. Using the Roman law concept of crimen laesae maiestatis, revived by Henry III, Salians no longer simply removed offenders from office, but also confiscated their allodial property.

The difficulties of the new course were already exposed in 1035 when Conrad II deposed Adalbero Eppensteiner as duke of Carinthia for pursuing a policy towards the Hungarians contrary to royal wishes. Conrad clearly intended an assembly of lords as a pliant court to endorse his verdict, but many of those present expressed disquiet, including the king’s son, Henry (III), who, as duke of Bavaria, had sworn friendship with Adalbero. Conrad secured consent by falling to the floor crying, a move that could easily have backfired and damaged his prestige. Although Henry III appears to have curried favour by reversing many of his father’s decisions, he continued the same methods, encountering even greater difficulties when he tried to enforce a new partition in Lorraine after 1044. He eventually achieved his goal, but alienated the duke’s relations in Tuscany.

Long the beneficiary of Ottonian patronage, the Tuscans had proved crucial in Conrad II’s victory over Italian opposition to his succession from 1024 to 1027. Tuscany’s defection to Pope Gregory VII after 1077 was a serious blow to the imperial position in Italy. The absence of other large jurisdictions necessitated a different approach to governing south of the Alps. The Salians spent only 22 of their 101 years of rule in Italy, and half of that was Henry IV’s largely unwilling presence during the Investiture wars. Their preferred method was to rely on the Italian bishops, both by appointing loyalists trained in the royal chapel, and by strengthening the episcopate by extending their control over their cathedral towns and surrounding area. This made some sense, given that demographic and economic growth began earlier in Italy than in Germany, eroding the old county structure and fuelling popular demands for greater civic autonomy. The Salians were not necessarily hostile to these developments, for instance extending their patronage by giving the post of royal judge to wealthy townsmen, some of whom subsequently rose to become counts or bishops. Conrad II also intervened to settle what became known as the Valvassores’ Revolt between 1035 and 1037. The valvassores were the subvassals of the ‘captains’ (capitanei) who held both urban property and church fiefs in the surrounding countryside. Conrad’s Constitutio de feudis of 28 May 1037 extended the benefits of hereditary possession of fiefs to the lesser lords, whilst continuing to assert the king as final judge of all disputes.

These policies were unintentionally conflictual, because they weakened episcopal authority over the valvassores and captains, notably in Milan, where a complex dispute developed over popular demands for autonomy and conflicting claims from the emperor and pope to intervene. When aligned with the difficulties encountered over Lorraine, this suggests the Salians were already encountering serious structural problems ahead of Henry IV’s minority following his father’s death in 1056.

The Saxon and Investiture Wars, 1073–1122

Discontent amongst east Saxon lords coincided with the first stages of what would become the Investiture Dispute around 1073. Neither of these problems was immediately life-threatening for the Salian monarchy. Henry IV continued to enjoy considerable support amongst the German and Italian episcopates, as well as many lay lords. However, his inability to find quick solutions to these problems fuelled underlying discontent at Salian methods and gave credence to charges of misrule. A more exalted style of monarchy inhibited the cultivation of ‘friends’ and made it difficult to compromise without losing face, and Henry rebuffed several attempts by lay and secular lords to broker settlements. Royal prestige was now defined by power and victory, not consensus and clemency. Unfortunately, open defiance, as in Saxony, left the king no choice but to employ force. The Salians were thus in the same bind in Germany as the Ottonians had been in earlier disputes with the papacy: violent methods conflicted with most people’s ideal of good kingship. The German lords provided Henry with an opportunity to restore politics to the earlier consensual course by summoning him to their assembly at Trebur in October 1076. Yet acceptance would have entailed an unacceptable humiliation, and so Henry undertook his extraordinary journey to Canossa in an attempt to outflank his opponents by reaching a deal with Pope Gregory.

The move failed to stop the malcontents electing Rudolf of Rheinfelden as the first real anti-king in March 1077. Rudolf was backed by the leading Saxons, the dukes of Bavaria and Carinthia, and around eight middling secular lords, plus the archbishops of Mainz, Salzburg, Magdeburg and their suffragan bishops. The majority of lay and ecclesiastical lords were still loyal to the emperor or at least neutral. However, the combination of civil war in Germany and the open struggle with the Gregorian papacy intensified the divisions. Both Henry and the Gregorians deposed each other’s supporters from the episcopate, while the king replaced the rebellious southern dukes with loyalists in 1079, including the Staufers, who received Swabia. There were now rival kings, popes, dukes and bishops, entrenching the conflict in the localities and widening the numbers of those involved with vested interests. The relatively even balance prevented either side from achieving sufficient preponderance to force their opponents to accept peace.

Although obstinate, Henry was sufficiently astute to seize the collapse of the Welf-Tuscan alliance in 1095 not merely to escape from northern Italy but to offer significant concessions across the next three years. This confirmed one of the two main political outcomes of this turbulent period: the demise of the old ducal elite and its replacement by a more numerous group controlling more modest jurisdictions. This group was recruited from the middling families who had amassed allodial property and county jurisdictions and were now accommodated by the creation of new jurisdictions associated with ducal rank. Henry reconciled the Zähringer, whom he had deposed from Carinthia in 1078, by raising their allodial property in the Black Forest to a new duchy 20 years later. This was rounded out by transferring Zürich, the richest royal domain in the region, as well as other jurisdictions formerly associated with Swabia. Meanwhile, the counts Palatine emerged as equivalent to dukes on the Middle Rhine by 1156. Henry V continued this policy after his accession in 1106, which coincided with the extinction of the Saxon Billungs. Although Saxony was not partitioned, Henry gave the Billung allodial property to the rising Askanier and Welf families. Other jurisdictions in Saxony were consolidated as a distinct landgraviate of Thuringia by 1131, while the remnants of what had been the Saxon North March (Nordmark) were detached in 1134, becoming the margraviate of Brandenburg after 1157.

The tentative return to consensual politics unravelled as Henry V sought to supplant his father after 1105, leading to renewed war until the latter’s death the following year. Henry V’s heavy handling of his former favourite, Lothar von Supplinburg, triggered another revolt in 1112–15 during which the king lost control of northern Germany and only survived thanks to continued Staufer support. Antagonism resurfaced at Henry V’s death in 1125. The leading Welf, Heinrich ‘the Black’ of Bavaria, defected from his former Staufer allies and backed the election of Lothar von Supplinburg. Conrad Staufer of Franconia was proclaimed king by his own supporters, including his elder brother in Swabia, splitting Germany north–south. He only accepted defeat in 1135 in return for a pardon, finally allowing Lothar III to tour the south.

The outcome confirmed the second lasting consequence from the troubles since 1073: command monarchy was discredited and defeated. The Trebur meeting of 1076 was the first of what historians have called ‘kingless assemblies’ (königlose Tage), as senior lords convened on their own initiative. Other meetings followed in 1105, 1121 and 1122, the latter compelling Henry V to settle the Investiture Dispute with the Worms Concordat. Although further collective action failed to avert violence in 1125, Lothar III nonetheless returned to a more consensual style. However, this did not restore Ottonian conditions. Instead, the restructured elite now saw themselves as sharing responsibility for the Empire’s welfare. This was expressed as ‘emperor and Empire’ (imperator et regnum), first voiced at the 1122 assembly and signifying that lords expected to participate in important decisions rather than merely offer advice. It remained for the Staufers to adapt governance to meet these expectations.

Edward III captures Calais



Calais, with a population of about 8,000, was not then a town of any great commercial significance. Its harbour was small and liable to silt up, and most travel between England and Europe was through Wissant or Boulogne, both of which had much better and more easily navigable approaches. For all that, it was the nearest French port to England and might be developed, and it had for years been a scourge of English trade as a nest of piracy. From the French point of view, although it was only a minor trading post, the town was close to the border with Flanders and important as a military base to guard against Flemish incursions, and it had been well garrisoned and stocked with enough provisions to withstand a long siege. Moving through Neufchâtel and Wissant, the English army reached the heights of Sangatte on 3 September, 1346 from where they could see their objective.

It is unlikely that Edward ever thought that he could take Calais by a coup de main, for it was well sited for defence. To the north was the harbour and the open sea, to the west was a river with only one bridge, the Neuillet bridge, and to the east and south was marshland criss-crossed by streams and rivulets that constantly changed their course. Within those natural defences was a series of well-constructed walls, themselves protected by moats, and at the western end was the castle, with its own separate system of walls, towers and ditches. The English did not even attempt to assault the walls, but instead prepared for a long siege. This was standard practice since, before the development of effective cannon, it was very unusual for a medieval castle or fortified town to be taken by assault. Far more often it was starvation, disease or treachery that forced capitulation, and it was common for a besieged commander to agree with the besieger that, if not relieved by a certain date, he would surrender the fortress. If, however, a castle or fortress had to be assaulted, there were three ways in: over the walls, through the walls or under the walls.

Assault over the walls could be achieved by the use of belfries or scaling ladders, or both. The belfry was a three- or four-storey wooden tower on wheels or runners. Packed with archers and men-at-arms, it would be pushed up close to the wall until the attackers could leap from the top storey onto the wall. It was a very old stratagem – the Romans had made frequent use of belfries – and it took much time and labour to place them in position. Once packed with men, a belfry was very heavy and the ground had to be levelled and a road built to allow it to be pushed along. All this preparation would be obvious to the defenders, who would try to set the belfry on fire with fire arrows or by throwing burning balls of straw soaked in pitch at it, and mass their own men on the walls as it approached. While the belfry was still theoretically on the equipment tables of a medieval siege train, it was hardly ever actually built or used. Scaling ladders were easier to make and to conceal until the last minute, but, unless there were sufficient archers or crossbowmen to keep the defenders away from the walls, this too was a dubious way of earning a living, particularly for the first man up the ladder.

Attacking through the walls meant creating a breach, and this could only be done with a battering ram or a bore, both of which were very slow and vulnerable to boulders and, once again, fireballs hurled onto them from above. Going under the walls involved the use of miners. Rather than attempt to tunnel beneath the walls and then emerge inside the castle, like the demon king popping up through a trapdoor in a pantomime, miners would try to collapse the walls. The mining team would tunnel under the wall, supporting the roof of the tunnel by wooden pit props. The tunnel would then be packed with combustible materials (dead pigs, having lots of body fat, were a favourite) and ignited. Once the pit props had burned through, the tunnel would collapse and the walls above with it.

There was a variety of machinery which could be used to hurl projectiles at the walls or into the besieged town. The mangonel relied on the energy of twisted ropes – human hair was regarded as the best material for mangonel ropes – to hurl a stone or fireball from the end of a beam. The springal, little different from the Roman ballista, was a giant crossbow, but, like its hand-held baby brother, it was slow to load and only effective if used in massed batteries. The trebuchet relied on a counterweight on a beam with a huge sling on its end and could deliver seriously large stones against or over a wall, while the petrary was an enormous catapult. It was claimed that the mangonel could be used to propel dead horses into towns in an early version of biological warfare, and the chronicler Froissart avers that, when the French were besieging Auberoche in Aquitaine in 1345, they captured an English messenger sent out to contact relieving forces, killed him and returned his body over the walls with a petrary – a somewhat unlikely tale. Edward may have had some early cannon in his siege train, and there is some evidence that three may have been on the field at Crécy. Descriptions are vague: they may have fired stone balls or large darts, but, as the secret of casting gun barrels was as yet unknown and the manufacture of gunpowder imprecise, they will have done little but frighten the horses and were probably more dangerous to the gunners who served them than to the enemy. If they did exist, they seem to have played little part in the siege of Calais.

At Calais, going over or through the walls was not an option as the moats and ditches protected the approaches; mining was ruled out because the soil was waterlogged and siege engines were too heavy to be moved over the marshy ground. Starvation was the only answer and the English were quite prepared to wait. At long last the requested reinforcements arrived from England and the fleet under Sir John de Montgomery, Admiral of the South, hove to off Calais at around the same time as the army got there on land. The soldiers began to block off all roads and tracks running to and from the town, and a vast camp was set up on the dry ground around the church of St Peter where the roads from Boulogne and Ardres crossed. The camp was intended to be in position for the long term, and soon shops, armourers’ tents, quarters for the nobility, butts for the archers, paddocks for the horses, and all the facilities of a large town were in place or being constructed. While the army was on the move, it could feed itself from the French countryside, but, now that it was static, the available food in the immediate area would soon be exhausted and provisions would have to be brought in.

It is sad but perhaps inevitable that interest in military history is centred on the battles and those who fought them, and that most soldiers would rather be out killing people than in barracks counting blankets. But the fact is that you can have the best soldiers in the world, superbly trained, highly motivated, brilliantly led and equipped with the best weapons that money can buy, but, if you cannot feed them, house them, resupply them,move them and tend them when they are sick or wounded, then you can do nothing. Administering an army is far more difficult than commanding it in battle. The real heroes of most of England’s and Britain’s successful wars are the logisticians, and they get precious little recognition for it. For the siege of Calais, government agents went out all over southern England to purchase foodstuffs and other supplies for the army. They had to be found, collected, paid for, moved to the ports, loaded on ships – which themselves had to be impressed – and delivered to the army. The French scored a minor success when a fleet of galleys from the Seine intercepted one of the first supply convoys and sank or burned most of the ships, killing the crews and dumping the cargoes. Future convoys would have men-at-arms or archers on board and the supply line was never broken again, but the need to put soldiers on the ships did increase the expense of the logistic effort.

At Calais, a brief attempt to bring down the walls by hurling rocks at them failed when the ground was too soft to allow a firm foundation for the trebuchets and petraries; an ingenious plan to assail the walls from boats fitted with scaling ladders was finally abandoned despite considerable expenditure in preparing the boats. And so the blockade went on. Although the town was well provisioned, its stores would not last forever, so the commander of the garrison, Jean de Vienne, an experienced and competent officer, decided to evict his useless mouths, expelling around 2,000 civilians – women, children, the old, the sick and the weak – into no-man’s-land between the walls and the investing army. At first Edward would not allow them to pass through his lines and, as there was nothing for them to eat save what little they had managed to carry away with them, they soon began to die. Edward relented and the dispossessed were allowed passage through the siege lines. While no food could reach the garrison overland and attempts to run supplies in by sea were usually prevented by the English navy, the occasional blockade-runner did manage to reach the harbour, but the quantities that could be delivered by this means were small.

During the latter part of summer and autumn, life within the English camp was reasonably comfortable, but with the onset of winter conditions began to deteriorate. An army on the move could keep reasonably healthy, but, once it became static, disease inevitably followed. Edward’s army of 1346 was no exception. Little attention was paid to the cleanliness of water sources, latrine arrangements were primitive, flies and rats abounded, and soon dysentery – ‘the bloody flux’ – began to take its toll. Dysentery is an infection of the gut and is passed on by contact with an infected person or by touching or eating something that has been handled by an infected person. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, often with blood in the faeces, nausea and vomiting, stomach pains and fever. While medieval man was probably more resistant to it than we are today, it could still be fatal, and, even if it was not, a man’s ability to do his duty was severely affected. Many of the spearmen and archers would have been infested with worms, and colds and influenza would have been common. Malaria was then endemic throughout Europe but was more of a summer affliction, there being a lot fewer mosquitoes around in the winter.

On top of the health hazards, manning siege lines was boring and gave few opportunities for acquiring glory or loot. Hence there was a steady trickle of desertion by archers and spearmen, while many of the knights found excuses to return to England to sort out a land dispute or see to a son’s marriage. There was also a problem with the horses, which started to die off from the cold. Or so the chroniclers tell us, but, as horses grow a substantial winter coat and are very capable of surviving all but the most severe weather, it may have been an epidemic of strangles, or perhaps starvation: hay would have been running out and barley and rye intended for the horses may have been eaten by the men.

The French had still not faced up to the implications of what they termed la déconfiture de Crécy (the collapse of Crécy), but Philip could not ignore the English army camped around Calais, where determined attempts to lift the siege by sea had proved futile. In early 1347, the French vassals were ordered to muster their troops at Amiens by Whitsuntide (28 May in 1347). The troops did arrive, eventually, but it was not until July that the army was ready to move, and, when they did, Edward was understandably concerned. Although the summer weather had improved the health of his army, there was still a large number on the sick list; long months in the siege lines had induced boredom and low morale; many soldiers had lost their physical fitness and fighting edge; and in June a reinforcement of the healthiest 100 men-at-arms and 400 archers had been sent off to Dagworth in Brittany. Although this detachment weakened the Calais army, it was a highly cost-effective investment. Charles of Blois had reinstituted the siege of La Roche-Derrien, hoping that by so doing he could lure the English army into trying to lift the siege, which might allow him to fight and win a battle on his own terms. Instead, it was the French who suffered a crushing defeat, for on 20 June 1347 Sir Thomas Dagworth led a night attack on the French army dispersed around its siege lines and defeated it piecemeal. Sir Thomas himself was wounded and captured, escaped, then captured and escaped again. When dawn broke on 21 June, nearly half the French men-at-arms had been killed, and those nobles not killed had been captured, including Charles of Blois himself, whom Sir Thomas sold to the king for £3,500. At a stroke the whole balance of power in Brittany had been reversed and the foundations laid for the eventual success of the Montfort faction in the Breton war of succession.

Meanwhile, within Calais the siege was biting ever more sharply. The garrison had eaten all the horses and was starting on the cats and dogs, so Jean de Vienne expelled another 400 citizens who were not contributing to the defence. This time Edward did not permit them to pass through his lines; he refused them food and water, and let them die. Not everyone in the English camp agreed with this, but most did. By allowing the previous expellees to pass without hindrance, the English had given de Vienne a pain-free way of extending the siege by reducing his ration strength, and there was also the question of spies and messengers being sent out in the guise of refugees. It was a harsh decision, but the right one in the circumstances.

With the approach of the French army from Amiens, summonses were sent to England to recall knights on furlough and those who had gone back to buy horses to replace those that had died during the winter. In any siege the investing army had not only to worry about sallies from the defenders, but also to guard against the risk of being attacked from behind by a relieving force. The French army got as far as Sangatte, saw that the English were apparently soundly entrenched and well able to withstand an attack (which they probably were, but not as well able as it appeared), issued a half-hearted challenge to come out and fight, and then withdrew. The news of La Roche-Derrien had reached the army, the men were not enthusiastic after Crécy the previous year, and many saw no point in continuing the war. As they scuttled back to Amiens, they were followed up by a mounted party led by the earls of Lancaster and Northampton, who gave them no chance to rest or recover their appetite for a fight. Philip now ordered his divisions to disband.

Inside Calais, Jean de Vienne had hung on in the hope of relief, and with the withdrawal of Philip’s army that last chance was gone. A messenger was sent out offering to negotiate and Edward sent Sir Walter Manny in to parley. De Vienne said that he would surrender the town if the lives of the garrison and the property of the inhabitants were spared. Manny relayed the king’s orders that, in accordance with the customs of war at the time, the lives of a garrison that held out during a siege were forfeit. Only unconditional surrender was acceptable and Edward would do with soldiers and civilians as he wished. This policy was not popular with Edward’s own knights, who pointed out that to kill men for doing their duty could rebound on them in the future. The whole point of adhering to modern laws of armed conflict that protect prisoners of war is to ensure that the other side does the same, and Manny and the others were arguing that very same point. Eventually, the king gave way. It was relayed to de Vienne that the majority of the garrison and the civilians would be spared, but not their property, and six of the leading men of the town were to come to King Edward dressed only in their shirts and with nooses around their necks bearing the keys of the city.

On the morning of 3 August 1347, Calais surrendered, and what happened next became the stuff of the French legend-makers, desperate to produce some tale of heroism from the disastrous years of 1346 and 1347. The story goes that the six burgesses, led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre, who had supposedly volunteered for the task, came out of the city gates to find the whole English army drawn up on parade, with the king and his queen and senior officers seated on a platform. The emaciated party approached the platform and fell on their knees, and Saint-Pierre asked for mercy. Edward refused and ordered them to be beheaded. At once there began a murmuring among the senior officers – to execute the men at once was bad enough, to execute them unshriven would be disgraceful. Edward was unmoved, and only when the pregnant queen, Philippa of Hainault, pleaded piteously with him was he moved to spare their lives. The truth, though, is surely that this was a carefully prepared and rehearsed charade to show the world that Edward was capable of great mercy: a queen might well argue with her husband in private, but not in public; similarly, whatever advice the king’s senior commanders might proffer in the council chamber, they would not cross him in the presence of a beaten enemy. As it was, Saint-Pierre and his companions were indeed spared.

Jean de Vienne and the more prominent of the French knights were sent off to join the growing band of notables in the Tower, and all the buildings of Calais and their contents were now to be the property of King Edward. Despite the insignificance of Calais as a trading port, it turned out to be stuffed with riches of all descriptions, largely as a result of many years of piracy, and, once the majority of the inhabitants had been expelled with little more than what they stood up in, the spoils of victory were collected and doled out. It was said that there was not a woman in England who did not wear something taken from Calais. It was Edward’s intention to keep Calais, but rather than rule it as part of English France, it would become a colony, with English merchants and tradesmen encouraged to settle there permanently with the promise of free housing and land. Calais remained English for another 211 years, until it was lost through Tudor neglect and French guile in the reign of Mary Tudor.

Edward’s initial intention was to follow up the victories of Crécy and Calais by another great chevauchée, which might end the war once and for all. However, the army was tired after over a year of constant campaigning and money was once again in short supply, so, when the inevitable approach for negotiations was made through the offices of the French cardinals, Edward was prepared to listen. For the French, a truce was imperative: they had suffered serious reverses in Normandy, Aquitaine, Flanders and Brittany, and, wealthy though their nation was, they were short of cash to pay the army. Messengers sped between Calais and Amiens to try to get agreement – almost any agreement – that would end the fighting. The English were, of course, in much the stronger position, and, when a nine-month truce was signed at the end of September 1347, it left them in possession of all that they had gained and held.

The return home of Edward and most of his army was greeted with acclaim. Parliament agreed that the money had been well spent and the king’s personal position was enormously strengthened by his obvious prowess in battle. At the same time, the taking of Calais and its plantation by settlers were seen as providing England with an opportunity for trade and an entrance to Europe that did not depend upon Flemish support, which might not always be provided. On St George’s Day, 23 April 1348, the king founded the Order of the Garter, a chivalric order which would comprise but twenty-six members and be a close companionship of those who had proved themselves in battle; it was also intended to promote King Edward’s court as one just as glorious as any in Europe. The order was to be headed by the king and his successors, who would choose the membership, and there were only two stipulations: knights were not to fight each other and they could not leave the kingdom without the king’s permission. Of the twenty-six original members, eighteen were definitely present at the Battle of Crécy and the others had distinguished themselves in various ways. The order would have its chapel in Windsor Castle and would support a chantry of twelve priests and twenty-six ‘poor knights’ – originally men who had been captured by the French and who had had to sell their estates to purchase their freedom.

Eustace the Monk


From Sorcerer to Clergyman to Pirate to Admiral, the Remarkable Life of Eustace The Monk.

The loss of Normandy, which made the Channel into a new political frontier, combined with general political instability and uncertainty to produce just the conditions which favoured adventurous, entrepreneurial sailors in their enterprising activities. These men were useful to the various authorities because they were able to react spontaneously and exploit political situations immediately, as they unfolded. The other side of the coin was that they lost no opportunities to make profits on their own behalf. The earliest of these to be recorded was Eustace the Monk, a nobleman from Boulogne, who first appears in 1205. He is a somewhat legendary figure who filled the roles of both pirate and mercenary. His story is derived from a combination of some ten of the medieval chronicles, which included a ‘romance’, or biography, which was written in the Picardy dialect, but even that not until 1284, some seventy years after his death. The chronicles are notorious for dramatisation and exaggeration, and no doubt the stories became embellished in the telling as they were handed down from one generation to another. They contain many contradictions. As with other colourful, larger-than-life historical characters, including the medieval outlaw Robin Hood, in the story of Eustace fiction became well embedded in fact. The following account, based on three secondary sources which were themselves based on the chronicles, is what seems most plausible.

Eustace was born into a noble family near Boulogne, probably around 1170. It is said by the Romance (and only, it seems, by that one source) that in his youth he visited Toledo in central Spain, which had been under Moorish domination for some three centuries until 1085. There, he studied the Black Art so successfully that he was without equal in the whole of France. Be that as it may, he is said to have appeared in a variety of disguises and terrified his opponents who knew of his reputation for his ‘power to become invisible’ as well as for his violence. Early in his life he also spent some time as a monk in the abbey of Samer, near Boulogne, in spite of the fact that one record describes him as ‘demoniac’. But, however unsuited to that occupation he may have been, it must have been that which was used later on by chroniclers as a title by which to identify him. He escaped from that life, apparently leaving in 1190 when he heard that his father had been murdered, in order to pursue the murderer.

He is next heard of in the employment of the Count of Boulogne but he fell out with him and left, swearing vengeance. Outlawed from there, in 1205 he crossed the Channel to England and offered his services to King John. The king is said to have equipped Eustace with a number of galleys, who then established himself on the island of Sark, from where he could raid the coast of Normandy, encouraged by John, who was hoping for retribution, having so recently lost that duchy. During that time Eustace carried out at least one major and daring raid, in which he penetrated some distance inland up the Seine, and then escaped from his pursuers by retreating west to Barfleur. One account says that as a reward for that raid he was given a rich ‘palais’ in London, although another suggests that this ‘palais’ may in fact have been in Winchelsea, since that was his home port when in England. He was evidently receiving royal favours, and it seems that, one way or another, Eustace had also amassed a personal fortune, presumably on the proceeds of piracy.

Then, sometime between May 1212 and November 1214, he changed his allegiance for the second time. He crossed the Channel again, in order to support France. The reasons given for that move are contradictory. One source suggests that by 1212, having apparently overstepped the mark, he was expelled from the Channel Islands by the English keeper, Philip d’Aubigny, and escaped in disguise to France, taking five galleys with him. An alternative account of his defection says he went voluntarily. This seems not unlikely, as he would have been disenchanted with John’s vacillation and weakness as a leader, and simultaneously attracted by the more positive approach of Philip Augustus.

From 1211 onwards both kings were jockeying for positions in Flanders. John still hoped to reconquer Normandy, while Philip Augustus had designs on England. Both of them needed a stepping-off base in Flanders, especially access to the harbour of the Zwin, and to Flemish mercenaries. Early in 1213 the Pope, after a long altercation with John, excused his English subjects from their allegiance to him and strongly encouraged all Christian leaders to unite in efforts to depose him. This, as described by the chroniclers, gave Philip Augustus the justification he was seeking for planning an invasion of England.

Events then led up to the episode known as the Battle of Damme, perhaps better described as an important raid. In the spring of 1213, Philip Augustus moved his land forces north and invaded Flanders. He devastated Bruges and attacked Ghent, at the same time ordering a ‘large’ fleet to move north up the coast. How large this force really was is not known, but it probably consisted mainly of sailors from Poitou, who were far from home and by no means entirely dependable.

John, having decided the best form of defence was attack, sent his half-brother William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, over at the head of a considerably smaller fleet to reconnoitre and, if possible, to intercept the French. They probably sailed in mid-April, and would have reached the mouth of the Meuse (the Zwin) in a couple of days, where Longsword was surprised to find the port full of vessels. Having established that the ships were indeed French, he took the opportunity to capture or burn the larger ones anchored out in the middle of the channel leading up to Damme while the sailors had apparently gone ashore to plunder what remained of the wealth of Bruges.

Hearing the news of this disaster and concerned particularly about the fate of his pay-chests which were on board one of the ships, Philip Augustus broke his siege of Ghent and hurried to Damme, where he found the remainder of his fleet, the smaller ships, still pulled up on the mud. However, confronted with the difficulty of getting those ships away from Damme in the face of the English fleet lying in wait outside, and mistrusting the mercenaries from Poitou, who might turn traitor and change sides at any moment, he burnt the rest of his own boats rather than let them fall into English hands. As a result, he was without a fleet and had to abandon any thoughts he may have had of invading England that year.

Although Philip Augustus could not prevent John landing in Flanders the following year, he defeated him and the armies of his allies, the Holy Roman Emperor and the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne, in a decisive battle (on land) at Bouvines, between Lille and Tournai. This was the first great encounter between alliances of medieval European powers, and has been described as one of the most important in the history of medieval Europe. From the point of view of operations in the Channel, not only was John repulsed and thrown back on the defensive, but the way was laid open for the French (who were now led, for diplomatic reasons to satisfy the Pope, not by Philip Augustus, but by Louis, his son) to pursue their plans to invade England. They were further encouraged by the political situation in England, where John’s tyranny was so intensely unpopular that a large faction of the English barons invited Louis to cross the Channel and claim the crown of England.

This was where Eustace, whose experience of dealing with ships and shipping, tides and currents in the Channel was evidently second to none, was indispensable. He was employed by Louis to assemble another substantial fleet, suitable for carrying a large force over to England. That was the official side of his activities. On the other side of the coin he played on his well-known personal reputation for inspiring uncontrolled terror, which was well illustrated by the caveat Philip Augustus gave to the papal legate, as reported by Matthew Paris, one of the more reliable of chroniclers: ‘Through our land I will willingly furnish you with a safe conduct, but if by chance you should fall into the hands of Eustace the Monk or of the other men of Louis who guard the sea-routes, do not impute it to me if any harm comes to you.’

In 1215, the year better known for the signing of Magna Carta, the international balance of power in the Channel was becoming critical and Eustace had begun preparations for their campaign. He took certain ‘machines of war’, possibly trébuchets, counter-weighted catapults to be mounted either on land or on the ships for throwing heavy stones at castles or onto the decks of enemy vessels, over to Folkestone to support the English barons. His fleet was then used to ferry Louis and his army over to Sandwich, of which they secured control in the summer of 1216. On 10 July Louis began to lay siege to Dover Castle but as that was skilfully defended by Hubert de Burgh, he failed to take it, and had to concede a truce on 14 October. Meanwhile, his forces went on to join up with the rebellious barons and together they gained control of a large area of north-east England.

At the same time, John’s fleet of galleys (incidentally one of the largest maintained by any of the medieval English kings) was feinting in the Channel with the French fleet. Considerable raiding and counter-raiding took place, but neither side seized an opportunity to confront the opposing fleet when they saw it emerging from port. It was easier to inflict damage on enemy shipping by raiding them while in port, with less likelihood of damage being sustained by the attacker.

In January 1217, in response to the critical situation, Philip d’Aubigny, described by then as a veteran seaman, was appointed to defend the coast of south-east England. According to one account, it seems that with the help of an irregular band commanded by one Willikin of the Weald, some of the Cinque Ports men managed to shut Louis up in Winchelsea. But at the end of February Eustace and the French broke out through that blockade. The town was apparently burnt, and one chronicler describes a dramatic rescue of Louis by Eustace.

Whatever the truth of those stories, Louis then spent some two months in France, during which time he lost some support in England. He returned to Sandwich at the end of April, and by 12 May he was besieging Dover once more, control of which was highly important to him. But while there, on 25 May, news came through that his land forces had been disastrously defeated in a battle at Lincoln. To compound his difficulties, most of his ships were driven back to Calais by a storm. Louis could do little without reinforcements. He proceeded to London while Eustace retired to Calais and gathered together a new fleet which had been rapidly reinforced with more ships by the energetic wife of Louis, Blanche of Castile. On 24 August, St Bartholomew’s Day, 1217, Eustace was sailing north up the coast of Kent at the head of this fleet, apparently bound for London in order to join up with Louis and the remaining land forces.

Having realised the very serious implications if the French reinforcements were to reach London, once the French had passed, Hubert de Burgh put to sea from Dover with a small fleet consisting mainly of royal galleys, reinforced by ships of the Cinque Ports. They started out on an eastern course, which gave the impression that they were making for Calais. But Hubert had a different object in mind. He made sure he had given himself the critical tactical advantage of having the wind and the sun behind him, and then turned north. The story goes that Eustace’s ship was the largest and was weighed down by a trébuchet, with the result that it was lagging behind the rest of the French fleet. Be that as it may, somewhere in the narrow space between Sandwich and the Goodwin Sands the English caught up with the French fleet and English crossbowmen began the action. They followed this by hurling pots of finely pulverised lime which blinded and paralysed the French, enabling the English sailors to board the French ships and slash down their rigging. As described by one of the chroniclers, this trapped everyone on deck ‘like a net [falling] upon ensnared small birds’. Eustace was found hiding in the ship’s bilges. Described by Mathew Paris as a ‘master-pirate’, he was a confidence trickster who in changing sides had inevitably made many enemies. He could expect no reasoned justice. He was brought out and summarily beheaded on his own ship, possibly by Richard, a bastard son of King John, possibly by Stephen Crabbe, a one-time friend whom Eustace himself had trained, who was now a rival pirate based at Sandwich To sum up, Eustace made the most of the opportunities offered by rapidly changing political circumstances. Very little is known of his life before 1204 but, in the light of what followed, he must have made very good use of that early period, becoming exceptionally proficient in everything concerned with sailing ships and with navigation in the eastern half of the Channel. This can only have been the result of extensive experience at sea. Courageous and fearless, he established a fearsome reputation among other mariners and also, it seems, respect among the national leaders. He was flexible and adaptable and, unhampered by any sense of long-term allegiance, he offered his services wherever and whenever adventure and commercial opportunity arose.

Was it a coincidence that he appeared in England almost as soon as John had lost Normandy? Probably not. He lacked one thing, and that was ships of his own. It is probable that he saw England as a good source of ships with which to follow his piratical inclinations. Then, when Philip Augustus began to plan to invade first Flanders and then England, and John was on the defensive, Eustace went over to the French side in search of an alternative source of ships, more profitable adventure, and probably greater rewards. In both instances his maritime experience proved indispensable, so much so that he seems to have had a hand in planning, and certainly in executing, the French invasion plans.

It was perhaps unfortunate for Eustace that he was eventually defeated by a chance combination of circumstances, by the determination and the political and strategic acumen of Hubert de Burgh, and by a direction of wind which, although it favoured his final voyage, also proved conclusively helpful to Hubert. If the French plan had succeeded, and had Eustace arrived in London to be greeted by rebellious English barons as well as Louis with the remnants of the French troops who had survived the Battle of Lincoln, France would have had a strong foothold in the contemporary turmoil of English politics, and the succession to the English throne might well have been different. As it was, John died in 1216, and his 9-year-old son, Henry III, succeeded to a throne which was independent of France, with William the Marshall as his first regent. After this period of acute uncertainty, the Channel was firmly established as a political frontier – and a good hunting ground for pirates.

Norman Invasion of Illyria


Norman cavalry.


Over a quarter century three popes, reluctantly, had come to the same conclusion: that it would be better to recognize, and try to guide, the growing Norman power in the south of Italy than to see it directed against their interests. Leo in 1053, Nicholas in 1059, and now Gregory in 1080, had each been obliged by the force of circumstances to confirm the Normans as vassals in the territories they had conquered. Each time, the extent of those territories had increased, as had the need of the papacy for Norman military help.

Pope Gregory, at Ceprano, had agreed to an alliance with the Normans, whom he had so long distrusted, only because he needed them, desperately, to counterbalance the military force that King Henry, finally victorious over the Saxons, was threatening to bring against the papacy. The pope’s only other major supporter in Italy, Duchess Matilda of Tuscany, could not spare enough troops to do more than guarantee the pontiff’s safety in still friendly Rome. But Henry was threatening to invade with a considerable force, aiming finally to obtain his coronation and an end to the papacy’s interference, as he saw it, in the affairs of the German church. Only the Normans- Jordan of Capua but particularly Robert Guiscard – could defend the pope and the reform movement (however tenuous Norman support for the reforms may in fact have been). It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that rumors began to circulate that summer that Gregory was planning to reward Guiscard by crowning him, rather than Henry, as emperor if he drove off the German threat.

Whatever the truth of those rumors may have been, Guiscard was not interested in such a farfetched scheme. He saw little advantage in getting involved in the complications of north European politics, much less as the pope’s creature. Ever ambitious and alert to opportunity, he wanted to keep his freedom of action. He was helped toward that objective by Henry himself, who suddenly handed him an excellent card to play. The king had renewed his courtship of Robert, urging him to desert the pope’s cause in return for investiture as imperial vassal in the March of Fermo, in the Abruzzi, plus offering a marriage alliance with the royal house – one of the available Hauteville daughters to King Henry’s son Conrad. However Guiscard, once again preferring to be a vassal of the militarily weak pope rather than giving the powerful emperor-designate cause to meddle in his activities, declined the new offer. He was, at the same time, careful to inform Pope Gregory of Henry’s offer (as well, of course, as his refusal), thereby gaining not only credit for loyalty, but also additional leverage over the increasingly anxious pontiff.

Even more importantly, Guiscard had more immediate plans, closer to hand. Although the pope had refused to confirm him as lord of Amalfi, Salerno, or in the March of Fermo, the ambiguous formula reached at Ceprano meant in reality that his possession of those lands had been recognized, as no one’s vassal. Robert intended to push forward, to reinforce and expand his domain by controlling more of the Abruzzi, and he considered that he needed neither the pope’s acquiescence nor the emperor’s license to continue his piecemeal advance. But even that would wait. For the present, he had still grander aspirations, well beyond Italy, and had even gotten Pope Gregory to bless them at Ceprano. Guiscard was planning to attack Byzantium itself.

Strategy as well as his always restless ambition had propelled Guiscard toward this new venture. His ambition was fueled by a mixture of admiration, envy and greed. Over the years, he and his fellow Normans had been powerfully affected by the rich culture, the administrative capabilities, the luxury, and the wealth of the empire from which they had stolen their lands. Almost twenty years of rule in heavily Hellenized Calabria had subtly affected Robert, to the degree that his initial interest in and appetite for Byzantium’s riches had grown into emulation of Byzantine ways. Such emulation, indeed, was politically useful, since adopting elements of eastern panoply and ritual was helping the Normans appear as the inheritors of Byzantium; it increased their legitimacy among their new subjects. Robert had even gone so far as to copy imperial motives into his own seals and otherwise present himself as the successor to the emperor; he used the title “dux imperator” and on major occasions wore copies of the imperial robes of state.

Almost as if to justify this presumption of his, Robert had, since1071, received a series of tentative approaches from successive emperors in Constantinople. Seeking because of their military weakness to bring their powerful neighbor into their diplomatic circle of influence, the emperors had suggested marriage alliances between the upstart Hautevilles and the imperial family. This was indeed heady stuff for a son of Tancred, the simple knight from Hauteville. By the terms of the marriage agreement that had finally been concluded with Basileus Michael in 1074, Robert had been promised the title of “nobelissimus,” only a step below that of Caesar, and would be entitled to wear the imperial purple. Even more enticingly, he could envisage that a descendant of his might some day sit on the throne in Constantinople.

However seductive the ideas of marriage ties with the rulers of Byzantium might be, they promised future benefit at best. For the present, the two states were still enemies. Byzantine agents and diplomacy were constantly at work to challenge Norman occupation of the lost Italian provinces. From Illyria, across the narrow Adriatic Sea, Byzantine governors were only too happy to offer asylum to Robert’s opponents, such as his troublesome nephews Abelard and Herman, or to finance and encourage any potentially seditious barons in Apulia.

Duke Robert’s proposed strategy was typically bold. The current weakness of Byzantium made it opportune to secure his hold in Italy by carrying the war into the empire and destabilizing his old enemies. Robert had been fighting the Byzantines since his arrival in Italy, and had defeated their armies often enough to be scornful of their military qualities. He had attacked the empire once before and been unsuccessful, but that had been merely a tactic to put them on the defensive. This time, he saw a chance to defeat his enemies, gain plunder, perhaps new lands, maybe even a throne. His newly developed naval power enabled him to take a major force across the sea, and to fight his old enemies in their own lands. The prospects were good, because the empire was in crisis; it had lost almost all of Anatolia to the Seljuks, and a new Basileus was faced with a chain of insurrections in his own military. Robert, sensing a moment of opportunity, began preparations for an invasion.

Guiscard also had a politically correct pretext to attack. Basileus Michael had recently been deposed, and the wedding alliance he had negotiated with the Hautevilles had been dishonored. The new emperor had packed off Robert’s daughter Helen to a convent, where she was being held as a pawn for a future move on the diplomatic chessboard. Robert must have been disappointed at the failure of the proposed marriage alliance; it had promised much. But he knew, all the same, that Constantinople’s politics were an uncertain thing: that Helen might never have sat on the throne, or given birth to a claimant to the throne even in the best of circumstances. Her status as virtual hostage, in fact, could even replace her intended marriage as a means to his ends. So he demanded that her rights, and his, under the old agreement be honored – even though the intended groom, Constantine, was as out of favor as his deposed father. When these demands were ignored or rejected, as the wily Guiscard had no doubt expected they would be, he demanded the release of his daughter, and began his preparations to invade if his demands were not met.

Guiscard embellished his pretext for intervention, in addition, by a somewhat transparent but useful fiction: he claimed that the deposed Michael had somehow escaped to Italy from his exile to a monastery. The purported Michael, by most accounts a wandering monk who had been drafted for the occasion, became a permanent attachment to Guiscard’s court, where he was treated with the deference due to a former emperor and advanced as the living justification for the coming expedition. Guiscard had even gotten poor Pope Gregory, at Ceprano, to support the claims of the counterfeit Basileus.

Preparations for the invasion of Illyria had, by the early spring of 1081, reached a climax. Robert had been able to raise a very substantial force because, for the first time in years, he had neither internal nor external threats to arm against. Roger, at the same time, was slowly but successfully subduing the remaining Muslim opposition in Sicily, and neither needed nor wanted Robert’s help on the island. Jordan of Capua, for the moment joined with Robert as an ally of the pope, was potentially trouble, but nowhere near the man his father had been; Robert doubtless felt he could readily take care of the young man if the need arose. The possibility that King Henry would invade, and his own duty to defend the pope in that event, was an unfortunate cloud on the duke’s horizon, but it could be treated as a distant threat. For the moment, Guiscard had the pope’s concurrence for the expedition, indeed his assistance, in the form of a letter of support addressed to the bishops of southern Italy.

He raised an exceptionally large force, consonant with his new power and wealth. It included contingents from his vassals but also many mercenaries: Muslims from Sicily, Greeks, Lombards, and adventurers from all over. In truth, the hired hands would be needed, because Robert’s vassals had shown themselves to be grudging supporters of an expedition that would, most likely, benefit Guiscard more than themselves. Nor did the taxes that the duke raised to pay for the expedition, or the hostages he took to assure the good behavior of his troublesome barons, increase the popularity of his effort. The mustering of the invasion force had consequently been almost a two-year affair. Ships had been mustered from his coastal cities, and still more hired from the Adriatic state of Ragusa; the naval contingent numbered a full 150 boats. Figures for the army, as usual, vary, but it was a force of over 1,000 knights, Normans and others who formed the nucleus, supported by as many as 20,000 soldiers and auxiliaries, siege engines, horses and supplies.

Duke Robert, still strong and magnificent at 64, was optimistic and an inspiration as usual to the gathering troops. His first son, the even more physically imposing Bohemund, was to be the second in command, and to lead the advance guard of the army into Illyria. Sichelgaita, often clad in armor like her husband, was with the army and a constant presence by Robert’s side, presumably as liaison to their son Roger, who was to be left in charge in Italy.’ All was ready, or almost so. And then, before the expedition could set sail, the political ground began to shift.

Suddenly, the situation in Constantinople had changed. The latest emperor had been overthrown in his turn, by the talented and energetic general Alexius Comnenus. Alexius had been friendly with the deposed Emperor Michael, and was, it was rumored, inclined to negotiate with Robert over his demands. In fact, an envoy whom Guiscard had sent to Constantinople over the winter had returned to Italy with a recommendation that Robert postpone his invasion in light of the changing situation, and the fact that Helen’s intended, Constantine, was likely to be restored to the purple as Alexius’ co-ruler. This was not news, however, that Robert wanted to listen to. His rage at hearing the advice of the envoy, an unfortunate Count Radulf, was reportedly monumental. He would not be deterred. He had invested too much in the expedition at that point to pull back, and to delay might allow Alexius to remove his pretext for invasion by returning Helen to her family, or exposing the false Michael. As Princess Anna Comnena wrote succinctly and dismissively a half century later,

That man Robert, who from a most inconspicuous beginning had grown most conspicuous and amassed great power, now desired to become Roman Emperor, and with this object sought plausible pretexts for ill-will and war against the Romans.’

In Italy, the situation was also changing. King Henry had finally begun his invasion, causing the pope to send messages of alarm, requesting that Robert come immediately to his aid. Robert could not ignore the pope’s pleas for help, but he had no intention of calling off his expedition so readily. He made a short trip to Tivoli, where he offered the pope a contingent of troops under his son and regent Roger Borsa, and reassured the pontiff that he would not fail him in the event of real need. But he refused to call off his expedition. As it happened, Robert’s judgment proved correct; Henry had come south with too few troops to do more than occupy the suburbs of Rome, as he did several months later. When the city proved loyal to the pope, Henry withdrew and no relief army was needed.

The Illyrian expedition indeed had already begun. The advance guard under Bohemund had left in April, rapidly capturing the port of Valona across the sea from Otranto, a situation that would provide an excellent bridgehead for the main army. The main force set sail in late May, joining with Bohemund’s contingent, and the combined force soon captured the island of Corfu, to the south of Valona. With the sea thus secured against a relief fleet coming from Constantinople, the invasion force was able to consolidate – the entire army did not cross until mid June because of storms- and then proceed northward up the coast to Guiscard’s initial goal, the capital city of Durazzo. It would take a serious siege to capture the town, which enjoyed a strong position on a high peninsula guarded by marshes on the land side. But Robert’s intelligence services were, as usual, aware of the enemy’s weaknesses, which in this case turned out to be the will of the city’s military commander, one George Monomachus. An appointee of the deposed emperor, Monomachus did not know how he stood with the new order in Constantinople, and had begun to negotiate with Robert’s envoys in an effort to save his own neck. It looked for a moment as if the city might fall to the Norman army without a fight.

Any optimism on this score was soon shown to be misplaced. The new Basileus, the Normans rapidly found out, was an adversary of a quality they had not seen for over a generation. Small, dark and unpreposessing, Alexius was the nephew of a previous emperor, one of the country’s best generals from a family of distinguished military leaders, and a man of shrewd and tenacious purpose. He, too, could act fast. In the present danger, he had taken two immediate steps to defend Durazzo. The first was to send a talented soldier, George Paleologus, to replace the wavering commander, Monomachus, and to harden the city’s defenses. The second was to appeal to the Venetians, the preeminent Adriatic naval power, for help in countering the Norman naval advantage. The Venetians knew they held a strong hand in those negotiations and drove a hard bargain, gaining unprecedented trade concessions in Constantinople in return for sending their battle-trained fleet to sea.

The Venetian navy appeared off Durazzo just in time, only days after the Norman army had arrived to invest the town. A fiercely fought naval engagement several days later demonstrated how great was the Venetian tactical superiority at sea. The Norman fleet was badly mauled, and from then on was obliged to limit its operations. The encirclement of Durazzo was incomplete. With the Venetian navy reinforcing the city’s defenses as well as hindering the Normans’ resupply efforts, and Paleologus energiz ing the Greek army, whatever advantage the Normans had had by their well-timed arrival had been lost. The city’s morale was maintained by the promise of a relief army, and the siege settled into a sort of stalemate, punctuated by fierce but indecisive engagements. The Normans could neither cut off the city nor breach the walls, since their siege engines, transported at such great effort from Italy, repeatedly proved ineffective against Paleologus’ determination and ingenuity in devising counter mechanisms.

The stalemate was broken in mid October, when Emperor Alexius arrived at the head of the long-promised relief army. Paleologus was able to join him at his camp outside the city, where a hasty war council was held. In the council, Paleologus argued for reinforcing the city and driving the Normans off through attrition. Disease in their camp, their supply problems, and the coming winter, he argued, would break the Norman siege in time, and more surely than a battle. He may have been right. Morale in the Norman camp was not high, and Robert had had little success to show his army, camped as it was on a hostile and unhealthy shore and trying to maintain a costly siege against a tenacious and now heavily reinforced enemy. But Alexius, too, had his problems; he could not count on the loyalty of his hastily recruited army over a long siege, and there was clamor in the capital for an immediate and decisive victory from the new emperor. Like Robert Guiscard, he was a man used to victory in battle, confident in his abilities, and capable of inspiring his troops to great effort. He chose to fight.

Robert drew up his army north of the city, its right wing with its motley assortment of mercenary detachments anchored against the sea where it could not be outflanked, and Bohemund on his left, inland of his own central detachment. In an effort to inspire a determined stand, moreover, he had burned the army’s boats and deployed it with a river to its back. The Byzantine army that formed ranks on the plain to attack the Normans encompassed a disparate collection of allied and mercenary troops cobbled together from a military still reeling from the disaster at Manzikert and repeated military insurrections. But it also contained elements of the empire’s elite units, the Bucellarion Guard and the imperial bodyguard of Varangians. The Varangians, in particular, were highly motivated. Now heavily manned by Anglo-Saxons driven from their native England by the Norman invaders there, they sought revenge in the coming fight for their fifteen years of exile.

As it was, in their eagerness to engage, the Varangians determined the course of the battle. Their initial attack, on the Norman right, was devastating. Against the onslaught of the Anglo-Saxons wielding their huge two handed axes, the Norman right wing, foot, and for once even the cavalry, collapsed.

A rout was narrowly avoided, partly because the river blocked the retreat of the Norman auxiliaries, but due also to the valiant efforts of heroic Sichelgaita. Fully armed and brandishing a spear, if Anna Comnena is to be believed, the warrior Duchess left her position by her husband’s side and rode toward the action, urging the fleeing soldiers to stand firm and shaming them, by word and example, to rally. Her efforts were rewarded, as the line stiffened once again and the Varangians, their charge finally exhausted, now found themselves in an exposed position well in advance of the Byzantine center. Meanwhile Bohemund, on the left, had seen relatively light action because an effort by the Bucellarion Guard to outflank him had been blocked by the river. He was able to send cavalry to the Norman right wing, where they fell on the now exposed Varangians and cut them down wholesale.

The battle was turned. A sortie from the city by Paleologus was beaten off, and now some of Alexius’ allies, notably the Serbians and Turks, began to desert the field. As the imperial army slowly, and then rapidly, dissolved, only the Varangians continued to hold their ground. The brave remnant of the proud but reckless detachment finally retreated to a small chapel, where they were burned to death by the now victorious Norman army. Alexius and George Paleologus, who had been cut off from his command when his sortie failed, were forced to flee among the remnants of the army, the emperor, according to his daughter Anna, barely escaping capture.

For the Byzantines, the defeat was humiliating, but not fatal. The Norman army, admittedly, was able to follow up its victory with relative ease. Marching along the great Roman Via Egnatia, the invaders had occupied most of Illyria by spring, even securing the surrender of the important fortress town of Kastoria in Macedonia. But Durazzo had succeeded in holding out until late February, falling in the end through the treachery of its foreign inhabitants rather than by assault. The Venetians continued to control the sea, harassing Norman communications and resupply efforts. After the fall of Kastoria, moreover, the Norman army had begun to lose its momentum and suffer from supply problems, disease, and attrition from the long field campaign.

The tenacious Alexius was determined to hold on and to confound his Norman opponent. Guiscard, for the first time, had met his match.