For glory! We've arrived at the final chapter of an epic undertaking: chronicling an alternate history of Europe in Paradox's Crusader Kings II. I, King Murchad I of Ireland, have made a bid by right of birth on the Kingdom of England, and my armies are on the march to secure the throne of the long-embattled realm. Here the story ends, in victory or in death. Onward!
It is the summer of 1160. England has been a divided realm for almost a century, ever since King Harald Hardrada of Norway died and left Norwegians, Saxons, and Normans to squabble over every inch of ground. England itself is a shadow of what it once was, occupying an area far smaller than the long-stable Duchy of Lancaster to the north.
The current English king is a distant pretender, the Saxon Gudbrand I, who claimed the throne by murdering his nephew, the boy king Enguerrand. My mother was Princess Thorborg of England, daughter of the renowned English King Magnus II, making my claim much stronger than Gudbrand's. We have just won a great victory over the Saxons at St. Pauls, but the war is far from over, and I've emptied the royal treasuries arranging a fabricated claim on Wales.
September 9, 1160: Reading, Oxford, falls to King Murchad. The plunder from the hold is used to pay back Ireland's debts.
October 13, 1160: After defeating nearly all of Gudbrad's forces in the field, King Murchad leads his men to capture Winchester.
April 20, 1161: Winchester falls. Northampton is the only county that remains in Saxon hands.
May 4, 1161: Arriving in the Northampton countryside, King Murchad discovers that Gudbrand's last bastion is already under attack by the Duke Stigand of Norfolk. The Irish liege elects to leave them to their battles, riding off to secure the smaller settlements in Oxford.
You only need to capture the "main" castle or city in any given county for it to count as occupied and, thus, slowly tick up your warscore. But capturing the smaller baronies will force my warscore up faster. And it's not like I have anything better to do.
July 12, 1161: After his victory at Northampton, Duke Stigand of Norfolk rides to join King Murchad's siege at Buckingham. To cement their friendship, a betrothal is arranged between Stigand's son and heir, Oshere, and Murchad's daughter, Princess Leigha.
King Gudbrand, as it turns out, is not well-liked by the other nobles of Britain. He has no legitimate tie to the Norwegian House Yngling that has ruled England since the time of Harald the Conqueror, whereas my mother was a bona fide Yngling princess. It makes sense that Norfolk would prefer me as their king, even if I am Irish.
April 9, 1162: All the holds in Oxford have been captured by Irish and Norfolkian forces. Duke Stigand departs to mind his own realm against counter-attack, while King Murchad continues his ride to Wiltshire.
December 4, 1162: Duchess Éua of Connacht organizes a faction to be made Queen of Ireland.
The last thing I need right now is a rebellion on my home shores while I'm campaigning in Britain. Éua is the eldest of five daughters born to the late Gilla-Íosa ua Brian, the last of the Breifnean ua Brians to reign over Ireland. I deposed him in a succession war some time ago to put the original Munsterian branch of our house back on the throne. As the daughter of a once-king, it seems Éua has her eyes on my seat. Luckily, despite all of the annoyance I have garnered by keeping the realm's military levies raised for years to win my claim on England, my key vassals still like me enough to shun this traitorous faction. I plot to have my cousin killed immediately.
August 9, 1163: Southampton falls to Irish forces, ending all Saxon resistance in Winchester. King Murchad sets his sights on Wells, Somerset.
December 6, 1163: The king's eldest daughter, Máiread, comes of age. She is a brilliant strategist in keeping with the ua Brian tradition. A great wedding is held for her and her long-betrothed, Prince Mads of Denmark. The close bond between the houses of ua Brian and Ylving are renewed, though Queen Maria of Denmark declines to join Ireland's war in England.
July 19, 1164: Ilchester, Somerset falls, closing Murchad's grip on the county. Gudbrand continues to hide and bide his time.
There are very few towns in England that we don't own outright at this point, but the Saxons are still refusing to surrender. Technically, I could just hang around and wait for the warscore to tick up to 100 and force their hand... but I'd rather get this over with so my men can go home. Gudbrand's home county of Gloucester is one of the last containing Saxon-loyal strongholds. Time to head up there and seal the deal.
November 17, 1164: Bristol, Gloucester falls. Duke Gudbrand finally surrenders, and kneels before King Murchad I of England and Ireland.
Unfortunately, this isn't quite the coup that winning historical England would have been. It's very much a fixer-upper. The majority of what is considered "de jure England" has been ruled as the independent Saxon Duchy of Lancaster for decades. Kent and Norfolk are also independent, and the Kingdom of Norway holds sway in Cornwall. All I've really inherited is a disjointed blob of South Britain that has somehow retained the appellation "Kingdom of England" for all these years, when in fact it is far weaker than the Lancastrian realm that borders it.
The good news is that the title King of England allows me to press claim on just about any county between here and Scotland, with the exception of Wales, which I have conveniently fabricated claims on. For now, I need to dismiss my armies and let my disgruntled vassals calm down. But once the time is right, I have all the justification I need to start a conquest that could end in my being crowned Emperor.
After King Murchad's coronation, Duke Åle of Oxford begins scheming to make himself King of England.
Yep, let's hear from all the traitors in the house. Come on out and make yourselves known. The king appreciates your honesty. If you wouldn't mind, take this quick survey. Question 1: Were I to be beheaded, I would prefer the stroke to start at... A) The front of my neck, B) The back of my neck, C) The side of my neck, D) I would prefer to be drawn and quartered.
January 10, 1165: King Murchad betroths his heir, Prince Brian, to the young Duchess Cristina of Ulster.
This is a solution to a problem that's been hovering just under the surface for a while. The Duchy of Ulster has been fighting my other vassals almost constantly, to the point that they own more sheer territory in Ireland than I have in my personal demesne. This means, was Ulster to rebel, I would almost certainly lose the Irish crown. And not to another branch of my own house this time. This marriage will effectively fold the Duchy of Ulster into the royal house over the next couple generations. Brian and Cristina's heir will remain King of Ireland, while also inheriting all of Ulster's holdings. Problem solved.
February 18, 1165: Duke Gudbrand forms a faction to reclaim the throne of England.
Yeah, good luck with that.
April 30, 1165: King Murchad's second daughter, Princess Leigha, comes of age. She is, of course, a brilliant strategist.
February 16, 1166: King Murchad's vassal, Earl Erlend of Wiltshire, seeks to usurp the Duchy of Gloucester from Gudbrand. The king encourages this.
September 15, 1166: King Murchad awakes as early autumn breezes sweep across the countryside of Thomond. Thomond, the land of his ancestors. The land of Brian Boru, founder of his great house. The land of his namesake, Duke Murchad I, who 100 years ago to the day, sent the ultimatum to Earl Muiredach of Desmond that began the rise of his lineage to power.
It was a land of great heroes and great deeds. Of his great-grandfather, Brian I, who united Ireland and became her king. A land from whence ships had sailed full of men ready to fight and die for their blood, for their honor, and for their faith. A land to which he had gathered his loyal host and won a second crown across the sea.
Time was often unkind to even the strongest of things built by human hands. Castle stones cracked and grew moss. Steel rusted, and cloth tattered and faded. But nonetheless, King Murchad could look upon what his bloodline had forged in the flames of intrigue and war, and know that its legacy would not be forgotten in any age soon to come. Ever the name of ua Brian would be sung from Ireland to Denmark, and the Holy Land beyond. Ever would they be counted among the greatest kings of the known world. And perhaps someday, his children and his children's children would go on to do greater things still.
A bird darted past his window, awakening Queen Gormlaith from her deep slumber. As their eyes met, fire finding its like, they both knew it was time again to march for song and legend. Battle was the true fuel that stoked the storied hearts of Ireland's reigning house. And until the day they died, whether over hills, down deep valleys, or across roaring waves, it was battle they would seek...
And there you have it. 100 years of alternate history. We've seen House ua Brian rise from a modest noble family in southern Ireland to a great and renowned dynasty holding claim to two kingdoms. 1166 marked the lineage at its most resplendent.
The ua Brians would go on to face continuing adversity in the coming years, as Duke Gudbrand declared war to reclaim England, swindling Norfolk to back his cause and calling on the aid of the distant Spanish realm of Navarra. King Murchad would be badly wounded in personal combat with the pretender, though he made a full recovery from the injuries in later life. The conflict ended with the assassination of Duke Gudbrand by the Earl of Essex, who swore fealty to King Brian and marked the largest expanse his borders would ever cover. King Murchad lost no battles over the entire course of the war, despite being outnumbered in several.
King Murchad finally left the world on June 7, 1173, after a period of infirmity at age 48. His son, King Brian II, became the youngest ever King of Ireland and England at 21, ruling alongside the Ulsterian Queen Cristina. The ambitious young liege would go on to wage war on Duke Stigand of Norfolk, former supporter of the traitorous Gudbrand, to unite southern Britain under the Irish-English crown. The momentum of the war was on King Brian's side, despite a brief Connachtian rebellion led by the heirs of House ua Brian of Breifne lasting from 1174 to 1176.
This momentum would finally be halted in August of 1176 when Duke Trond of Gloucester, son of Duke Gudbrand, declared himself King of England and called in the the aid of Norfolk (already at war with King Brian) and Somerset, once loyal to the crown. The royal host found themselves outnumbered three to one due to the stubborn insistence of Queen Cristina to use most of the Ulster levies to press her own ducal claims on Ireland's lesser lords.
Though they fought valiantly, King Brian's loyal men were dealt a decisive defeat at the Battle of Bath on December 4, 1176. This marked the effective end of Ireland's claim on mainland Britain, and the Kingdom of England would pass back to the Saxons. Nonetheless, Ireland would only grow stronger and more independent, becoming an unassailable fixture of northern Europe under ua Brian monarchs for generations to come, while the petty kingdoms of Britain continued to squabble and claw for territory.
Thus ends our tale...
Here's where I usually put the obligatory, "Thank you all for reading!" message. I started writing these chronicles way back in June, and the amount of positive feedback you guys have given has been truly inspiring. So much so that it pains me to say I'll be putting this project on hiatus for a while. It's fairly time-consuming to produce and edit, and everyone needs a break now and then. Never fear, though. This won't be the last you see of the Strategy Chronicles. There are plenty more awesome games out there that would lend themselves well to this format, and I'm already formulating ideas for the future.
If you have any suggestions for epic strategy titles that would benefit from the narrative treatment I've given to Civ and Crusader Kings, be sure to let me know in the comments. Total War? Mount and Blade? Might and Magic Heroes? Maybe throw in some sort of wacky restriction like Tom Francis' Skyrim diaries? I'm curious to hear your feedback.
On behalf of High King Brian II of Ireland, and all those who came before him, and all those who will follow, I bid you farewell for now. May you find clear skies, calm seas, and victory in the field.