The Dutch: Prelude to their Golden Age: A Historical Novel [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Richard E. Schultz
eBook Category: Historical Fiction
eBook Description: In the Sixteenth century the Dutch people established the right of a people to govern themselves, by challenging the Divine Right of a King to rule a nation. It was the most radical revolutionary idea of its day. The eighty year war that followed was the prime precursor to the American Revolution two hundred later. This novel is the story of that evolution. Excerpt: "Both watched the seemingly endless flow of enemy horsemen disembarking from the distant causeway. These German mercenaries were the finest cavalry in Europe. After all these years of war, they knew this would be the first time a Dutch army would even attempt to meet the enemy on an open battlefield. The Baron seriously told his son, "We could both die this day." His son Jon replied "Fear not father. By now, another Lord of the Moist Land had been born. You have a grandson who is safe in Italy. If we lose our lives and homeland today, your grandson, my son, will find a way, with the help of the old gods, to recapture our sacred land."
eBook Publisher: Eternal Press/Damnation Books LLC/Eternal Press, Published: 2012, 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2012
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Middle Frisia 1397 A.D.
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The Lord Builder
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In 1397 A.D., the ruler and great lord of the Droger Land, Baron Derick van Weir, was glad the visor on his helmet hid both his annoyance with the chatter of his young horsemen, and the usual discomfort he felt while mounted for any prolonged period of time. He knew a slight command would end the nervous prattle of his young men anticipating battle; yet only dismounting when he reached the Regent's camp would end the throbbing in his right thigh. That limb was pierced two years earlier by a Frisian bowman, as the same Count Albert, the Dutch Regent, made another of his many attempts to annex valuable Frisian farmland for Holland. Lord Derick knew, as had all of his ancestors, that war with Frisia was a constant occurrence for far less significant reasons and another battle on land would do little to diminish the maritime competition from Frisia on the sea. The rambunctious Frisians had always controlled the important gateway to the North Sea and were again causing problems for Albert and his wealthy merchant friends. Holland had won Albert's prior campaigns but always failed to end the resistance to Dutch rule in Middle Frisia. After each campaign, the Frisians returned to the land and remained a rival power at the gateway to the North Sea.
After twenty years of surrogate Regency for his mad brother, and another ten years as the sole Dutch Regent, Albert still didn't realize he needed the organizational skills of the traditional Dutch nobles if he expected to not just capture but hold the ground won on the battlefield. The wealthy men he did favor and title came from the almost inexhaustible pool of inexperienced but rich merchants from the cities. These former wealthy Burgers did a better job of financing his wars of conquest than strategizing them. Count Albert recently bled the nation white in a civil war purging disaffected nobles after some of them murdered his beloved Burger mistress who had grown too powerful in their eyes. It was a difficult decision for Derick, the Lord of the Droger Land, from the truest blue-blooded family in Holland, to side with Albert and his mercantile associates. The decision was made, as all such decisions were made by countless prior Lords of the Droger Land, on what was best for the continuation of the family's reign. The realm's geographic position, adjacent to Frisia, weighed heavily on the judgment to side with the more powerful Count against Derick's traditional noble peers. The pure foolishness of these plotters in killing the woman, and not the Count himself, justified any doubts that lingered within Derick about his decision. His military assets sat impassively as Count Albert stormed each of the plotter's castles, taking their lives and fortunes.
For fourteen hundred years the neighboring Frisians were the traditional enemy of the van Weir blood line and the greatest threat to continuity. The first Great Lord of the Droger Land, a Roman General, originally took their homeland from the Ingvaones, who were the immediate kinsmen of the Frisians. Throughout the centuries his ancestors had fought and learned to live at times in harmony with a progression of Frisians dynasties. Occasionally, there were brief periods of intense combat with the Frisians, sandwiched between longer more cordial times that included inter-marriages and carefully nurtured alliances. The Baron knew the independent-minded Frisians could be good friends and vicious enemies. It was for this reason, this time he left behind his vaulted bowman and other men-at-arms at home under the capable command of his trusted magistrate, Frances Roulfs. If his beloved wife, a Flemish princess, had been alive, he would have felt confident leaving her in command. Many other matriarchs of the realm were forced to rule when their husbands were carried home from a battle on their shields. Some met similar fates defending the realm. Lord Derick was certain the forces left behind would be capable of repelling the raiders the Frisians would be sending in revenge against the Droger Land. As his archers had well served the Count's campaigns in the past, Derick's decision to leave them behind would be criticized by Count Albert when he and his horsemen reached Holland's assembling Army.
The cavalry force he did bring to the coming battle was different from the usual heavy armored force of mounted knights and squires. His only son and heir, Jacobus, had brought the idea for a new force of mounted men home from his secondary studies in Flanders, along with a host of even more radical ideas to improve farming in the Droger Land. To placate his son, and knowing that any major reform of the agricultural system that was already in turmoil could be disruptive to the realm, he decided allowing the formation of the new unit was the far easier choice. Unlike most noble patriarchs, he had truly bonded with his son after his wife's early demise. The great lord had not only schooled his son in the art of war but had spent many nights by candlelight teaching him the written word before sending him off to a secondary school run by the Hospitaller warrior monks who were known to put a bit of steel and ferocity into their academic lessons.
The young Lord Jacobus had returned with the idea of patterning a unit of horsemen after two models-the light Saracen horsemen who drove the Crusaders from the Holy Land, and the original Germanic Calvary that were so important to the conquest of their homeland fourteen hundred years before. Such a force could react almost immediately to any threatened point on the periphery of the realm. Those borders were becoming more accessible as reclamation projects by neighbors reduced the adjacent marshlands. Lucas' two childhood friends, Robert and Jan, the sons of the appointed magistrate Frances Roulfs, helped Lucas gather volunteers for the new unit. Within a week, seventy adventurous young men from the families of the Droger Land's most successful craftsman, farmers and merchants, able to provide an acceptable mount, became founding members of the new cavalry unit.
While each of the young men already had the required training in the weapon of his father, Jacobus armed each with a newly purchased buckler and a traditional heavy Germanic sword from the Droger Land's arsenal. The buckler was a small shield that gave little protection against arrows but could deflect an opponent's blade and be used as a binder to control a heavier armored opponent's sword hand. Those carefully sharpen ancient blades still had the ability to smash through chain mail. The young Lord, a skilled swordsman, began to train his volunteers to use these weapons with the help of his father's best men-at-arms. Watching from atop his castle walls, the Baron quickly became enchanted with the serious enthusiasm and sometimes humorous antics of these young commoners learning to be mounted warriors. These sons of farmers and merchants knew little about how to use horses in war. The young would-be mounted soldiers found it difficult to understand that their untrained stallions and mares would rather buck them to the ground, than be ridden into the personal space of another mounted rider. They were surprised when their untaught horses would even rear up and refuse to approach too closely to a stationary footman who held his ground. After seeing an endless number of the bewildered young men thrown to the earth and forced to remount when possible, the Baron decided to personally take charge of the cavalry instruction. After six months of injuries and attrition caused by the vigorous training, the unit was reduced to fifty dedicated members whose mounts no longer feared man or beast.
The Baron was so pleased with the performance of the young riders that he decided to visit the armories in Bremen to purchase light armor for the unit. He took Jacobus and both of the magistrate's sons, Robert and Jan on the trip by sea to Germany. At one of the armories they selected a light weight breast plate and helmet for each cavalryman. The young men wanted to increase the offensive capability of their unit and, since "gunnes" or "hand cannons" were available in numbers, the young men attempted to convince Derick to purchase such a weapon for each rider. A "gunne" at the time was a barrel cast in wrought iron and attached to a wooden stock with a flash pan that ignited the powder through a small hole at the top of the barrel. This needed a spark to send the projectile in motion. Usually they were cumbersome weapons, needing a second person with burning tinder to fire them, yet the newly evolving gunne at one armory was different from the others. It had a slow match attached to the flash box with a spring lever that acted as a trigger mechanism. That gunne allowed one man to fire the weapon, even when mounted. The barrel was short, difficult to aim but like all smooth bore weapons, could be loaded with small shot, rather than one large ball, making it very effective at short range much like a modern day shotgun. The Baron had a knight's natural pre-disposition against such weapons, but eventually a compromise was reached with his son and the other lads. Thirty weapons were purchased for the majority of the unit who had little expertise with the Droger Land's traditional bow.
Jacobus had found some excuse for stopping the column for the third time that morning. With his own armor still on a pack animal, he nimbly dismounted and made his way to his father's horse and began adjusting the saddle's stirrups knowing it made the journey less uncomfortable for his father. The other mounted men knew to keep some distance, for the two lords, at times like this, usually conversed privately. It was Derick who began the conversation, "Remember my son, the Frisians know everything the warrior monks taught you in Flanders. Frisia became a bigger military threat when they gave sanctuary to many Templar-knights a hundred years ago. At the time they didn't fear the Pope or the French king and they don't fear anyone today. Remember the things I taught you, for the Templars taught the Frisians the same things the Hospitaller monks taught you about individual combat."
"Aye father, on open ground, always short thrusts with my lance and parry left with my shield, it will not be expected. If possible, keep to my horse, the steed makes me invincible against the footmen." Jacobus almost recited.
Derick roared, "What if you're dying horse tosses you into a crowd?"
Jacobus, almost laughing raised his sword hand above his head and started moving it around and around. "I will draw my whirling blade until it's sound, breaking the wind, can be heard in the heavens by our ancient gods. They will well know I have already taken precious ground from our enemies."
After his son's last reply, the great Lord Derick had difficulty holding back a smile as he chastised Jacobus for delaying the column's advance "so needlessly".
When they arrived at the rendezvous of Holland's Army, as the Baron had anticipated, Count Albert was extremely unhappy to see that his contingent was missing its skilled bowmen. While Albert had brought ample bowmen with him, he never felt he had enough archers to soften the enemy formation with a flood of arrows, before the almost ritualistic charge of the heavily armored mounted knights and squires usually decided the outcome of his campaigns. The angry Count immediately designated the Droger Land's unorthodox cavalry to the ranks of the reserves. As was the right of nobility, the Regent's action allowed the Baron and his son to decline his invitation to participate, without their horsemen, in that traditional charge of mounted knights.
The night before the battle, Derick excused himself from the festivities at the Regent's regal quarters for Albert always partied before a conflict. Alone with his son, by the light of a campfire, he drew an outline on the wet soil of the battlefield and shared with his son his vision of the upcoming battle. He suspected their unit would see hard fighting no matter what the Regent thought. Derick wanted Jacobus to command their men should he fall in battle or become separated from the unit during the struggle. More importantly, he also wanted his son to know that if the ancient gods helped them overcome the enemy, there would be no pursuit of the defeated Frisian knights. "They are more our noble kinsmen than the Regent and all his elevated hounds' men from Holland's cities. My son, remember these brave Frisians deserve a better fate than a blade in the back or being held for ransom in a dungeon in Brussels. We, and they, do what we know we must." Jacobus only nodded his head in approval; he did not need to be reminded of such things.