Campaign of the Month: August 2014
The Concord of Ashes
Louis of Blois
A handsome, dashing leader of the Fourth Crusade, renowned for his skill at arms; he is led entirely by the dictates of his heart, and was capable of considerable acts of both kindness and cruelty. He perished at the Battle of Adrianople in 1205.
Handsome, athletic, dashing and possessed of the grace that only generations of royal breeding can foster, this man was the very paragon of knighthood. He was clearly of noble birth, perhaps in his early thirties or late twenties; clean shaven, and sporting wavy, short brown hair and engaging, energetic brown eyes. The sword and dagger belted at his waist were of exceptional quality, and his armour of the finest make.
The Coat of Arms of Count Louis I of Blois and of Clermont-en-Beauvaisis
(modified from the wikipedia article).
Louis I, Count of Blois, was a fine example of the incestuous, bewildering royal connections that dominate the West. He was born in the spring of AD 1172, the son of Theobald V (called the Good) of Blois, making Louis the first cousin of the late Count Theobald III of Champagne. His mother was Princess Alix of France, the elder half-sister of King Phillip II Augustus. His maternal grandparents were King Louis VII of France and his first wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who later married King Henry II of England and gave birth to King Richard I the Lionheart, Duke Geoffrey II of Richmond, and King John of England.
Thus, Louis was first cousin to both the French and English monarchs. He was also related by marriage to the Árpád dynasty of Hungary and the last Comnenus emperor Andronicus I. Beyond that, he numbered perhaps a score of dukes, counts, abbots, barons, bishops and even a cardinal or two in the closer boughs of his family tree.
Even as a squire, it was clear to all that Louis of Blois was a prodigy with lance and sword, more than capable of defeating seasoned knights. At the age of eighteen, he would accompany his father, his uncle Count Stephen of Sancerre, and their vassals on the Third Crusade to the Holy Land. They arrived in the summer of AD 1190 to a camp that was quickly encircled by Saladin and troubled by disease. Queen Sibylla of Jerusalem died in October, followed by her two daughters, and they were far from the only high-ranking casualties. Louis lost both his father and uncle to disease in January of 1191, but not before Count Theobald V had the opportunity to see his son win his spurs by felling many foes during a failed attempt to take advantage of a breach in the walls. Louis was acclaimed count as soon as his father passed, and was confirmed as such several months later when Philip II arrived in April. The count of Blois would see out the remainder of the siege in the retinue of his king, and he would depart for home in July.
Louis was a well-meaning, if not entirely intellectually gifted, count to the people of Blois and of Clermont-en-Beauvaisis. Instead of thinking matters through to a logical conclusion, he tended to act according to his innate sense of fair play and gallantry, and was easily convinced to act rashly by those whom he trusted. For example, finding the practice deplorable, and feeling inspired by the the freer living conditions he saw while touring the East, he promulgated a charter in AD 1196 abolishing serfdom in his domains. Conversely, he has subsequently increased taxes to such a degree that many of the free peasants of Blois now find the security of serfdom more attractive than trying to meet their financial commitments as free tenants.
At the Tournament at Écry-sur-Aisne on 28 November 1199, Louis and his cousin Theobald III of Champagne were the first major nobles to respond to Pope Innocent III’s call for a crusade. Not a few of his illustrious ancestors were crusaders, and Louis feels that it is “his turn”. After raising monies and exhorting his fellow countrymen to join the pious undertaking, he left France in AD 1202, travelling first to Montferrat to pledge his allegiance to the late Theobald’s successor, Marquis Boniface and then directly to Venice.
Count Louis was accounted the finest jouster in the entire crusade, and very few could stand up to his skill with a blade either, especially when his temper was up and he was keen for a fight. He often led men into the thick of the battle, and his reputation as a warrior was secure. Even so, despite his tremendous charisma, reputation and puissant skill at arms, he was a flawed captain who was prone to the kind of extreme gallantry (and stupidity) that gets men killed.
In late November of 1203, Louis was the first Frankish noble to rush to the aid of the over-eager Venetians and their poorly planned first assault on Zara. His apparent reasoning was that their allies were already in danger, and better to be “all in the fray and hope to carry the day” rather than attack piecemeal and risk the loss of good men to indecision. In the months afterwards, he also eagerly led the hunt for Zaran rebels in the rugged country north and east of the conquered city. It was in this capacity that he encountered the Concord, who rushed to the aid of the crusaders in their assault on a cliff-side encampment of rebels. Count Louis witnessed the desertion of Gunthar’s vaunted luck, when a spear thrust from an enemy sent he and his horse over the edge of the precipice. The apparent death of the brave knight moved the French lord deeply, and he brought news of the sad tidings to the crusader camp. This subsequently freed the Saxon Gangrel to execute his plan to recreate himself as a simple chirurgeon attached to the army upon his return from the mission at Toth (a scheme that he never had the opportunity to truly realise).
During the first siege of Constantinople in July of 1203, Count Louis led one of the divisions that advanced to meet the army of Emperor Alexius III before the Theodosian Walls. Due to his exceptional skills as a cavalryman, he was given the right wing to command, and despite his reported misgivings about attacking the capital at all, Louis was eager for battle. Alas, despite outnumbering the Latins by more than two-to-one, Alexius III lost his nerve and withdrew his army back behind the safety of his walls. Later that night, the villain robbed the imperial treasury and fled the city, handing the crusaders a de facto victory without a proper war to earn it.
The prince was raised up Alexius IV with his blind father, Isaac II, to rule as his co-regent and, after a short interval, he secured further aid from the crusaders so that he could ensure his governance. A number of the barons accompanied him on a show of force through the near provinces of the empire as he gathered taxes and secured oaths, but Louis was not among them. Instead, in order to maintain order he remained in the camp with Count Baldwin. Their success was mixed, for although war did not break out and desertion was minimal, brawls and discord were common. In November, a great fire apparently lit by drunken crusaders levelled much of the heart of the city, and resentful Greeks rioted through the remnants of the Latin Quarter in response.
Upon his return to the city, Alexius IV found that he was not beloved of the populace. Worse, to meet his financial obligations to the Latins, he was compelled to levy taxes and strip the churches and monasteries of their wealth. This caused his popularity to wane even further, and he began to distance himself from his western allies. As relations continued to worsen between the crusader host and the city, men began to go hungry and threaten desertion once more. Alexius Murtzuphlus Ducas deposed Alexius IV and Isaac II in early February of 1204, taking the imperial crown as Alexius V. Within weeks, both his predecessors were dead and war loomed once more.
Count Louis did not participate in the second siege of Constantinople in April of 1204, nor the subsequent Great Sack. Rather, he was afflicted with a severe fever in March, and did not recover for some time. Indeed, Louis was left behind to convalesce for the subsequent battles and sieges that established the stability of the new Latin Empire over the balance of the year. For his service during the campaign he was made Duke of Nicaea, though Theodore Lascaris immediately denied him any meaningful use of the title by taking the city and establishing a successor state to the Byzantine Empire there.
He recovered only a little while before the fateful Battle of Adrianople, almost a year to the day since Constantinople fell to the crusade. Tsar Kaloyan of Bulgaria proved a canny captain, succeeding in hiding the true extent of his numbers, thus luring the Latins into a false sense of security despite the fact that they were outnumbered many times over. Geoffrey of Villehardouin and Enrico Dandolo maintained the siege perimeter around Adrianople, while Louis was entrusted with 100 knights to form the van of the army and Emperor Baldwin followed behind with more knights and a body of infantry and archers. Battle was joined in the mid afternoon. Always impulsive and eager to fight, and only more so due to his recent inactivity, Count Louis was lured into pursuing a Cuman division of light cavalry who engaged in the time honoured horse-warrior tactic of the false retreat.
Alas for the would-be duke, his impetuousness would be his undoing, for the Cumans made a pattern of turning and engaging briefly before fleeing once again. Before long, he was lured several miles beyond the ready assistance of the emperor. who was nonetheless compelled to attempt to do so. Tsar Kaloyan had also prepared the ground well in expectation of this very folly. A multitude of “wolf pits” had been dug the night before, and the skilled Cuman warriors knew exactly where they were. Count Louis and his men did not. Once past the pits, the Cumans manouevred the trap between they and the pursuing French knights, presenting themselves as having rallied and readied themselves to do battle once more. Meanwhile their Vlach and Bulgarian allies worked their way through the nearby hills and woods, moving to surround the enemy at the appointed time.
Louis fell for the trap, charging with many of his men into the hidden wolf pits. Dismounted and injured, they were swiftly surrounded by the enemy infantry, or else pulled from their horses by hooks and carried to the ground by more men than they could strike down. By the time Baldwin arrived to assist him, the writing was already on the wall for Louis’ detachment. Moreover, the tsar acted quickly to cut off the emperor and his own knights from escape. Surrounded completely, with no means of forming up, the two bands of knights were winnowed to nothing. Not one of them succeeded in breaking free.
Emperor Baldwin of the House of Flanders was carried off to the Bulgarian capital of Veliko Tarnovo, where he would meet his end at the tsar’s hands later that year. A number of other prominent knights and lords also surrendered and survived, to be later ransomed for enormous sums. Through them, legends have arisen concerning the prowess of Louis of Blois on his last day. Cursing the enemy, asking no quarter nor offering it, it is said that he fought in a rage, like a man possessed. He slew more than a score of foes trying to reach Baldwin before he ultimately fell, encircled by ropes, and skewered by spears.
Pointedly, the old veterans say, Tsar Kaloyan ordered the valiant but foolish knight to be left on the field for the crows.