1. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    How to cause civil war (in a middle age setting)

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Skaruts, Nov 18, 2016.

    Supposing I have a character or group of characters capable of assassination and subversion, or whatever else might be needed, what would they have to do?

    I suppose, the obvious is to kill the king, the queen, their sons and their daughters.

    The goal is to make it so there is no immediate successor to the throne, and the nobles aren't willing to concede it to any other.

    I suppose they might need to create some hostilities between the nobles that would be potential contenders to the throne. If that's the case, I would like some suggestions on what ways that could be achieved. What would press their buttons, and what buttons would those be?

    What other obstacles would have to be overcome?
     
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2016
  2. Scot

    Scot Senior Member

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  3. NigeTheHat

    NigeTheHat Contributor Contributor

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    Your setting is European Medieval-ish? You could set it up so that the direct hereditary line to the throne is pretty small - say, there's the king and the queen and a sickly princeling. No-one officially thinks about succession beyond the sickly princeling because to do so would be treason, and that means if something did happen to the royals, you'll get factions of nobles headed by people who can all claim some kind of hereditary right from 5 generations ago all deciding they want the crown.

    Alternatively, maybe the king is a weak ruler, and doesn't enforce any restrictions on his nobles raising their own armies. So when he decides (or is persuaded, or is pressured) to imprison Black Harry, the Duke of Northangia's best mate, the Duke decides he's not going to have it and marches his troops on the capital. Nobles flock to both sides with their own armies, hoping they'll have backed the victor and can get a cut of the spoils.

    The inciting event doesn't have to be much. Make sure your world is a powder keg and any little spark could set it off.
     
  4. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    Yes.

    By the way, when the royalty dies, I suppose the royal army stays put under the command of a General. What happens if that General dies? Do soldiers disband and join other factions or will they appoint another General, or stay still under orders from someone immediately below the General (don't know who) in the meanwhile?
     
  5. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    NigeTheHat makes some good points.

    If you look throughout history, almost all civil wars in feudal, hereditary-based, states were caused by over-ambitious people striving under various pretexts to take charge of a throne. The thing to understand is that during the Middle Ages there was no concept of a nation state. There wasn't *really* an England or France. There was the English and French crowns and their vassals- dukes, counts, etc. who swear to pay tribute and support their lord in times of war. Like an upscaled version of feudalism. These smaller lands that pledged loyalty to a king were often quite different culturally from other lands that served the same king, and so there was no concept of a national identity. Therefore, it was difficult to spark a war through inciting nationalism or a popular uprising by "Frenchmen" to create a "French Republic" when the concept of Frenchmen didn't even exist. There were geographic areas like England and France, but they were no nations and people living in London had little in common with those from northern England. Additionally, men in the Middle Ages seemed to believe in some kind of mutual "social contract" they had with their king- you've probably heard of this concept in a philosophy or high school history class. They saw the king who ruled over their lands as their ultimate protector, appointed by God, and they usually loved him for it. Modern people often miss this because we have been brought up to believe that all humans are equal, that democracy should be the foundation of government, and that anybody who rejects democracy (like a king) is a tyrant or dictator. But this was not a view commonly shared during the Middle Ages.

    Republics like the United States rely upon a national identity and law coupled with the will of the people to hold their elected leaders responsible. In the Middle Ages, monarchs had almost no accountability and so when a member of the royal family decided to go rogue and proclaimed that through his great, great uncle's best friend's twice-removed brother's previous cat's owner, he was related to the king and deserved the crown, there was nothing the public could do to stop him. Let's say this man is a duke. He had his own lands and his own army, loyal to him, and if he could successfully lead his armies to victory against whatever forces his king could muster, he would gain the crown.

    The only caveat was the military victory part- as a single duke, he would only be able to muster a few thousand men. If the other dukes support the king, he would have to fight through twenty thousand men for the crown. This is why we so often see rogue nobles trying to scheme and gain alliances from foreign powers or high nobles who have been eyeing independence. Don't forget that from "duke" the next step is king, and it's not a huge leap to make if you can garner the loyalties of a few more powerful men. Thus many ambitious nobles were constantly plotting and trying to build their own alliances. It's also why so many monarchs paid for foreigners to be their bodyguards rather than rely on men from the territories of their subjects, who could be preparing a coup.

    Very often civil wars happened between family members who ruled different kingdoms, such as was the case in the Hundred Year's War

    The main reasons for civil war are as follows:
    -No clear line of succession (Rome, most western monarchies)
    -Line of succession goes to younger brother rather than to son (800's to 1200's Russia)
    -An ambitious, confident, and ruthless high status nobleman
    -The monarch is seen as a traitor/wretch
    -Foreign monarch with family ties to the king invades, some nobles rise up and take his side

    Let me know if you have any questions!
     
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  6. agorman00

    agorman00 Member

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    I'm not sure where in the middle ages you're thinking. But the reformation in the 1500's could be an interesting and obvious cause of civil war. Although the 1500's is a little bit past the middle ages, it's a very similar era in regards to warfare, and if you're in Germany/HRE territory, culturally. Might be worth a thought.
     
  7. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    This will depend on what the royal army is.

    Are you picturing an early highly feudalistic society, the later period feudalism when knights were still the primary consideration but the concept of nations began to develop, or the late period such as the Reformation and the Italian Wars when mercenaries and massed armies of professional infantry loyal to country more than lord were employed?

    Early feudal:
    -King is the lord
    -Higher nobles are the king's vassals and owe him tribute and the loyalty of their armies
    -Armies of higher nobles are loyal to those specific nobles more than the king or any general; no concept of nation-states exists
    -Armies rarely let an outside noble lead them, little concept of a royal general

    Late feudal:
    -King is the lord and head of a state
    -Higher nobles are the king's vassals and owe him tribute and the loyalty of their armies
    -Armies of higher nobles serve the noble, but are about equally loyal to the king, who is the head of their nation
    -The idea of generals rather than nobles had emerged- armies could sometimes fight for someone who wasn't their direct lord

    Renaissance:
    -King is the head of a state
    -There are higher nobles, but the king can directly tax and draft his nation without nobles acting as middle-men
    -Professional national armies are loyal to the state and the head of the state is the king
    -Mercenary armies are loyal only to $$$ and will kill anybody they are paid to
    -Professional generals were common, and men would follow any general appointed to lead them
     
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  8. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    @QualityPen, I believe Late Feudal would be closest to what I'm aiming for, although I include fantasy elements (a fantasy world) in my ideas, and that also gives me some flexibility to mix and match if I need to.
     
  9. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    I am going to agree with @NigeTheHat on this one. having it all hinged on the powder keg
    theory, and the result will be a power vacuum as they all scramble to be the one on top.
     
  10. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Okay so check this out.

    Once upon a time, there was this place called Japan. One day, the emperor was dying, but his son was only 5 years old. The dying emperor was famous for uniting Japan, and before he went to the big Sushi Bar in the sky, he told his five closest subordinates to watch over his 5 year old son until the kid was old enough to rule. Then he died. The five dudes were like "Yeah right, this kid isn't gonna be the new Emperor. It's gonna be one of us. Because we have armies, and people who like us." and each one started scheming on how to take over with their individual armies. Then there was civil war.

    It's literally as simple as that.
     
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  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    In England you had three major civil wars after the Norman conquest (not counting the smaller issues like the Monmouth rebellion, the northern rising against Henry 8, or the peasant revolt)

    Stephen and Matilda Aka the Anarchy centred on an internecine dispute about who should rule within the royal family in 1135-54 caused by the death of the William heir of Henry 1 . Henry then attempted to put his daughter Matilda on throne but after his death his nephew Stephen of Blois had other ideas. In actual fact William's death was an accident, but it illustrates how an assassination could kick off a civil war

    The wars of the roses 1455-85 was similar in origin being a dispute between two rival branches of the house Plantagenet (that is between the house of Lancaster and the house of York. The proximate cause was dissatisfaction with the weak rule of Henry 6 which cause renewed interest in Richard Duke of York's rival claim (note this is Richard 3s father). - this would have been more difficult for one man to forment as the proximate cause of the dissatisfaction was economic decline after the 100 years war , but it does demonstrate how you could forment a civil uprising by spreading dissatisfaction with the current ruler

    The English civil war 1641-1651 was actually a series of three wars between supporters of the crown and supporters of parliament ,essentially over dispute about how England should be run , largely around how much constraint parliament could place on the crown and the kings expenditure. Although it actually wasn't this sort of war could be formented by a courtier fueling the kings dissatisfaction with 'unreasonable constraints' or a reformer in parliament fueling dissatisfaction with crown extragavance. and thus provoking a flash point.
     
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  12. JackyJack

    JackyJack Member

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    There are a lot of good points about possible tension between ruling dynasty and other noble houses in the topic. If you consider adding sparks between highborn families themselves – even minor slander will do. A side glance, an inappropriate seat at the feast, old grudges, envy or just plain greed. Take your pick based on setting’s political situation and your goals.
     
  13. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    Thanks a lot to everyone. :)

    This is essentially what I have so far:

    The queen is loved by everyone, the king is also loved, but his temperament often unsettles people, especially his advisors and his General who witness it more often. They actually love each other a lot.

    When the queen is assassinated, against all odds, the king goes nearly berserk. He becomes eager to find the murderer and gets people in prison on any suspicion (though he's not blind as to sentence without proof), he's no longer focusing on most of his duties, he's belligerent, curses people, curses especially the youngest son for being (in his view) inept, keeps breaking and throwing thing around, punches a random guard in the face in a surge of fury, etc.

    This generates unrest among the high nobles and in the royal court.

    His temperament gets soothed and he regains some focus, though, when he discovers the main character, who is an old man who writes horror stories about torture and murder. His stories actually soothe the king because he envisions his wife's murderer as the victim. (more on him here: https://www.writingforums.org/threads/a-lone-man-in-the-woods.149278/)

    Everyone calms down, but are all still wary of his now volatile temperament, and worried about his now prevailing general impatience: he rushes decisions, drops negotiations in favor of either ultimatums or disinterest, etc.

    Then his descendants also start showing up dead, one by one. The king becomes progressively unfocused again, though he still takes refuge in the stories - the main character allows him to choose elements of stories he has still not written, and the king daydreams for hours about gruesome cruelty applied to the victims (again, in his mind, his wife's murderer).

    But at this point everyone's already seeing a pattern in the series of murders, and his remaining descendants start fearing for their lives. Word also starts travelling into their whereabouts that a duke, most known for being a pompous greedy narcissist who had always insisted (though never proven) he's some far-fetched 50th degree cousin of the King, has become more active in forming new alliances and strengthening the existing bonds. Another duke who is an actual cousin of the queen, starts doing the same, both in reaction to the general predictions and in response to the other duke.

    I was thinking that maybe the inept son of the king might go rogue (instead of dying), and end up joining the ultimate blood bath. I don't really know how a rogue could attract allies and troops quickly, though.
     
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    sentencing without proof was standard practice in the middle ages - the general approach was accusation , arrest and torture until confession (or until the suspect dies under torture if they won't admit it) , execution.

    Its like the practice of ducking women accused of witchcraft (prevalent in the 1600s)- if they drown they are innocent but that's okay because their souls are with god, if they don't drown then they are clearly being aided by Satan so lets burn them.

    Pace / Miranda it isn't
     
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  15. Skaruts

    Skaruts Member

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    Come to think of it, they really didn't have many means of investigation, did they...
    The idea was that the king wants to be as certain as he can that he's got the right person, because only then he will feel satisfied for torturing him.
     
  16. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    big soft moose, you are correct about the prevalence of guilty until proven innocent doctrine, but I was under the impression that these practices, particularly torture, were mostly only applicable to common folk. When someone important was suspect there usually was a trial of some kind unless the crime was obvious. Under the feudal system each high noble was also the ruler of his own mini-state. If the leader of a mini-state was simply accused, tortured, and executed that would at the very least cause severe political fallout in regards to that duchy, county, etc. It would also have the potential to seriously unnerve and test the loyalties of other nobles- after all, they might be next. The nobles may become rebellious and demand assurances this will not happen again. Remember the Magna Carta?

    Of course, the king would be quite free to attempt to carry out purges of his household. Whether he suspected someone of the killings or not, the heads of guards assigned to protect the royal family would start rolling very, very, quickly. Incompetence on this level was usually viewed as straight up treason, punishable by death. If they are lucky, they get hung. If they are less lucky, one of the secret police and his collection of sharp objects may have a word with them first.

    That being said, the king may go one step further and try to replace his household guards with another group. In some cultures this was not an issue- foreign mercenaries would be hired and the current guards would step aside. In other cultures where the household guard had a special significance, such as was the case with the praetorians of Rome or the janissaries of the Ottomans, they would attempt a coup de etat or at the extreme least harbor a burning resentment to the new-comers.
    --

    Skaruts, does the son join with one of the dukes or did you mean that he tries to start his own faction? I'm guessing he will attempt to depose the king?

    If a late-feudal prince wanted to gather an army quickly, he could do one of four things. He could call to his aid a foreign power to intervene, but this was always risky. The prince may lose a great amount of respect and loyalty from the nobility even if he wins, and the foreign ruler may decide to install himself as the new king instead- most royalty were related so a foreign king could well be this king's cousin. The second option the prince has is to appeal to the nobility. If the king is seen as unhinged and many among the nobility see this but are hesitant to support usurper dukes, they may jump at the opportunity of aiding the rogue prince, who may be seen as the legitimate heir even after the civil war's conclusion. The third path the prince can follow is to hire mercenaries. Mercenaries were common during the Middle Ages and were frequently already organized into armies known as "companies." This is an expensive and risky option. Mercenaries were extremely disloyal to anything but money. The prince would most likely have difficulty in paying for them without access to the royal coffers, and the king or one of the dukes may be able to give the mercenaries a better offer, at which point they will turn against the prince mid-war. Even if the prince managed to pay for their upkeep, mercenaries were known for pillaging, murdering, and raping when they captured a town. This is hardly a good thing when one wants to retain the loyalty of future subjects after a civil war. In some rare cases mercenary companies could become so militarily and politically powerful they actual tried to become a competing party in the civil war and capture power for their own leader instead of the prince who originally hired them. The fourth option would be to appeal to the household guard or other powerful political-military organizations for aid, but this was only possible in cultures where these men existed and their loyalty could be swayed. If the king is executing guards at random or replacing them with a different military elite, their loyalty may waiver as I described above, and they may decide to support the prince instead. This is far less likely to happen if they are foreigners like the Varangian Guard were or if the "royal guard complex" does not exist in this particular culture.

    I've thus far described history with rather broad brushstrokes because I believe that it's easier for an author to be creative when he or she has an understanding of concepts throughout history rather than specific events and people. However, if you would prefer to read some specific examples of these events, I recommend reading a little on the following. Even wikipedia is acceptable for gaining a basic understanding of these events.
    -Deposed Emperor Alexios Angelos calling on the Fourth Crusade to help him become Emperor of the Byzantines, and the subsequent uprising against him, followed by the sack of Constantinople by the crusaders
    -War of the Roses as a more classical struggle involving loyalties of the nobility
    -Mercenaries should be rather self-explanatory, and plus I think I about summed it up above
    -The Ottoman Civil War 1509-1513, a three-way war between Bayezid and his two sons, Selim and Ahmed. This war was in part determined by the Janissaries, who were loyal to Selim despite serving Bayezid.


    Hope that helps!
     
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  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yes and no - if you look at the court of Henry the 8th for example , what tended to happen was that servants of the acussed noble would be tortured until they confessed and implicated him or her , at which point the noble would be imprisoned and possibly tortured depending on the kings wishes before being executed - the wise noble saw the execution as inevitable and confessed before torture became an issue and begged the king for clemency. (its also notable that 'clemency' was generally granted but it would take the form of mitigation of sentence from being hung, drawn and quartered to death by beheading or something like that - in anne Boleyn's case he was so 'merciful' that he imported a special executioner from france to do the beheading with a sword rather than an axe so it would hurt less)

    there was still no real investigation or fairness of trial as we would understand it as the king would already have determined the desired outcome and the court would not go against his wishes.

    Likewise with the 16th century witch trials - with very few exceptions once you were accused you were knackered , and they also fostered an informer culture where people would inform on others to avoid torture. Mathew Hopkins (Witch finder general) did somewhat over reach when he accused Oliver Cromwell of Satanic practice due to his belief in the lucky number three , but that was very much the exception rather than the rule
     
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  18. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Going back to the original question - if you killed the king and queen but left two brothers alive its possible that they might then fight for the crown as fratricidal conflict over that sort of thing is quite common - while that was going on you could also see other contenders also coming forward pressing their claims. If you look at GoT (which is loosely based on the wars of the roses) you have what 5 or 6 contenders for the throne .... lanister , 2 baretherens, the Starks , Bolton's bastard , Danerys what ever her name is and so forth.

    the longer the power vacuum goes on the more likely it is that other people will take advantage of it - either to press their claim, to try and wrest bits of the kingdom away, or just to engage in banditry and plunder while the royal armies are otherwise engaged.

    The french civil wars of the middle ages were like that - while the french were also engaged in fighting the English you had various minor knights and barons hiring mercenary armies (at times including parts of the english forces and also germans, flemmings, and so forth) to fight each other or the crown or the English or all of the above in land grabs
     
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  19. QualityPen

    QualityPen Member

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    Ah, I see. Thank you for clarifying. I thought you meant that the kings could just abduct a duke at random. I think you're absolutely right about using servants as "evidence" to get at the nobles themselves. Looking at medieval justice really gives a renewed appreciation for modern legal systems with due process and a clause against cruel and unusual punishment. Not to mention innocent until proven guilty rather than the opposite.

    I think a really good depiction of such 1600's "justice" was in Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini, in which an ex-military doctor is sentenced to death for alleged treason after he treated a nobleman who fought in the Battle of Sedgemoor. I can remember seething with anger at the injustice of such a trial last time I read it.
     
  20. Denegroth

    Denegroth Banned

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    Sure. Lots of upheaval. England is a good reference for this. No, generals didn't own their armies. The army may be loyal to A general, but the guy who's leading the ... disagreement, pays the bills, not the general.

    What created credibility in such conditions was friends. Which guy had the most other guys like him with armies that have committed themselves to armed conflict to sort out the issue. Might is right. SO, when plotting an overthrow such as this, the plotter generally dealt with the alliances and troop numbers first. Having solved this, the rest is academic.

    If you're a lord with a wee bit of an army, and this other lord just claimed the throne with his six lord buddies behind him (count at least seven wee armies the size of yours at this point), are you really going to make an issue of it?

    Once the numbers are resolved, the murder can then take place. It really doesn't matter how, so long as the new "king" can't be directly blamed. Usually a "dupe" is selected for this. The plan is to throw him to the wolves, then look all just and patriotic while you do it.

    Not many of these sorts of conflicts lasted very long. If you want lengthy blood letting, try something on the scale of the:

    Thirty Years War

     

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