Thursday, September 15, 2005

Whatever happened to William what’s-his-name?

Whatever happened to William what’s-his-name?

After his lucky win in 1066 at Hastings , ruthless suppression of revolts through a scorched-earth policy around 1069-1070 at York and buying off King Swein of Denmark , he considered England reasonably secure from internal and external threats.

He spent the rest of his life fighting for his Home : the duchy of Normandy . England was considered and treated as a conquered cash-cow . (Something like his descendants thought of India )

He was a near-perfect Machiavellian Prince : ruling through fear and respect , distilling the ruling class to clients and close family . His only lapse was that he could not bring himself to kill his eldest legitimate , rebellious son (Robert Curthose) .

He had a long sick-bed , then death-bed , attended by the “best physicians and priests” . The fear and respect vanished upon his death . He was embalmed and shipped to Caen for burial . The state of his respect then can be judged by the fact that his sepulchre was too small for him ( he was about 5 feet 10 inches tall , but very corpulent at the end (kings are never fat.) ) . The bearers also dropped him , “breaking him” according to current accounts . No attempt was made by his successors to counteract the various spins put about by his erstwhile enemies . His grave was despoiled by Calvinists in the sixteenth century . A new monument was vandalized by French revolutionaries in 1793 . Today only a commemorative slab in the abbey at Caen remains . He would have been amused.

An interesting aside was that his long-time wife Matilde was only four feet tall . (Her bones were disinterred in 1968 ) . They must have made an odd couple . She was the daughter of Count Baldwin V of Flanders and he was the very able , but illegitimate , Duke of Normandy , something like the Prince of Pirates . He married her despite the opposition of Pope Leo IX and his liege-lord king Henry I of France : not a good career move for an ambitious princeling . He reputedly remained faithful their whole married life (she died before him) .
Their oldest son (Robert Curthose) was her favourite . She supported him even when he was in armed rebellion against her husband . Such was William’s love for her that he forgave both . On his deathbed (having a suitable time for remorse ) he forgave Robert and made him Duke of Normandy , but not King of England .

What If William did not win at Hastings ?

William’s attack was a typical Norman strategy . Keep up aggressive pressure and rapidly exploit any lucky break . The lucky break at Hastings was that all three Godwin brothers were killed in the battle . ( The King and his two brothers) .

Plan A for William was that his attack would be inconclusive and Harold would pay him to go away (like William did with King Swein of Denmark in 1070) .

When all three brothers were killed , the Saxons broke . The battle was lost , but the war was then lost because there was nobody of sufficient stature to rally the troops and the country . William’s speed , ruthlessness and tactics ( motte-and-bailey castles) prevented any rallying until the rebellion of 1068-1070 .

The very fact that William went to great trouble to bring across cavalry shows that he felt that the main probability favoured a standoff . Battles were decided by infantry , but even a modest cavalry force could prevent a rout if the enemy was deficient in cavalry (like the Saxons were). William had a fall-back to his ships and castle at Pevensey .

England then soaked up 10 000 aggressive and greedy Normans .

If William was forced to return to Normandy , he would still have been saddled with problem of about 10 000 aggressive Normans . Guess where they would go ? The way had been paved by the conquest of Sicily and Southern Italy by the Guiscard family of Normandy . Bohemund Guiscard went on to conquer Antioch during the First Crusade . Imagine 10 000 more like them .

What would the world look like now ?
What if William withdrew to Normandy and all those really aggro Normans went to the Middle East ?

Normans acculturate very quickly . A Norman Caliphate stretching from Constantinople to China is the likeliest solution . Semitic hysteria and Norman cold-bloodedness would make a formidable combination .

The only serious challenge would have been from the Mongols .
The Western response to centuries of light-cavalry attacks was numerous fortifications with a few heavy cavalry in each . Light-cavalry (like the Mongols) usually win by getting inside the decision-loop of their enemies . This presupposes that their enemy obligingly masses . A few big fortified cities counts as massing .

The key is the advantage of fortified defense over offense . (In the siege of Malta about 8 000 knights held out against about 70 000 elite Ottoman troops .)

A successful ratio is about 1 defender for every 10 attackers .

What is the Western defense to enemies who do not stand still but can sting ? :
It is Independent defensive positions with a heavy smallish offensive punch which are NOT co-ordinated on a large scale.

Ie Numerous small Castles with a few knights and each having an independent ruler .
They will sit tight , but a few neighbours might combine to hit a tempting target .

If 300 000 Mongols attacked say 1 000 independent neighbouring castles , each with about 20 heavy cavalry , the Mongols will lose .
If they try to reduce each castle in detail , they will be nibbled to death by heavy-cavalry attacks from neighbouring supporting castles . Siege machinery would make the Mongols vulnerable to fixed-point attacks . There are not enough Mongols to attack on a broad front .

There are always more agriculturists than pastoralists .
It is a numbers game as long as the castles do not try to unify . If the castles do not unify , their attacks are random and the Mongols cannot get inside their decision-loop , because there isn’t one .

Has this happened before?

Yes .

The collapse of the late Bronze-age civilizations around the Mediterranean .(circa 1200 BC) Refer to the best study on the collapse of civilization I have come across :
“The Sea Peoples” by N.K. Sandars (it was dedicated to Sheila and John Campbell – is this by any chance the John Campbell of Analog fame ? )In any case , the arguments in the book have a distinctly Cambellian flavour .

The collapse of the Western Roman Empire was similar , but not as bad .

See Alfred the Great’s system of burghs .




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