Clan Fights, Blood Price, and Accidents

Ah, the complex world of honor, hair-trigger reflexes, and short tempered men without much of a sense of humor (notably Skender.) When is blood-price invoked within the Clan? The easy answer is “it depends.” Alas, that’s a bit too easy.

So. If the Hunters are out Hunting, and one is killed or mortally wounded by their prey, no one in the Clan is considered responsible. Sometimes it is foolish eagerness, or sneaky prey, or just sheer bad luck (as when Arthur slipped on wet grass or mud, and that let the abyssal thing get close enough to bite him badly.) These things are part of the risks, everyone knows them. The Hunters always kill what they catch, rather than sending it back the way magic workers often do, so the creature has paid a price*, so to speak.

Farm accidents happen, and unless gross negligence is proven, there is no blood price involved. The loss is unfortunate, but again, everyone knows that there are risks, some more foolish than others**.

When the Hunters are training, well, that’s when things get complicated. Fights are refereed, and are supposed to stop at first blood or when someone hits the floor. Guys being guys, sometimes enthusiasm and physics overrides the rules. If it is obvious to everyone watching that the survivor tried to keep excess harm from happening, or that the deceased was terminally stupid, then any blood price is at most token. The referee and older active Hunters will try to keep known antagonists from sparring with each other to reduce the likelihood of murder under the guise of “training accident.” (When the priestess and several other Elders show up to a practice, at least one Hunter is going to get counseled about proper behavior and how better to channel anger and rivalries.) There is always a Healer present, usually one of the older or already married women. That reduces the temptation among the youngsters to try to impress her with their skills and accidentally causing serious injury or death in the process.

Let’s look at Arthur’s/Boianti’s career as an example. He has killed younger Hunters three times that are noted in the stories thus far. The first and second times, the youngster jumped Arthur. The younger men wanted to prove that they were better than Arthur. In that case, especially the second time, so many people saw the idiot’s attack and Arthur’s automatic defense that the Hunters and Elders agreed. Stupid games led to lethal prizes, and Arthur wasn’t asked for blood price. Nature had weeded out the terminally foolish, as sometimes happens. The third time, when Arthur was working with a younger Hunter and training against Rendor and a third experienced fighter, Arthur (and his student) did have to pay a token price. Yes, the deceased should not have jumped into the fray unplanned and unannounced. But Arthur should have stopped his student the moment he realized the situation. He also should not have been so hair-trigger while training. Or so the referee and Elders determined. The punishment of temporary spiritual exile, so to speak, fit the failure of self-control, according to the other Elders.

So, what about Skender and the Hunter once known as Karol? Skender has almost no sense of humor. He also tends to be very sensitive to what he thinks is a challenge to his status and position. They’d been out on a hard Hunt, and Skender was tired, ached, and in no mood for anything. Neitehr were the other older Hunters. Karol should have read the group better, but no. He had a reputation for being impulsive, irritatingly so but not fatally. Yet. Karol mouthed off with what he intended as an irreverent joke. Skender took it as a status challenge and reacted. Karol’s apology fell literally on deaf ears, because Skender wasn’t hearing anything but the sound of his own heartbeats and breathing. He was going to kill Karol. The fortuitous lightning fire saved Karol, as did Boianti distracting Skender. When Skender, as clan head, declared Karol outside Clan protection, it made Karol fair game for anyone with a grudge. Boianti did what he could to get Karol out of the killing zone, so to speak. It was assumed that Karol died of his injuries. Skender paid a small blood price for his loss of control. After all, Karol had a history of folly, and everyone else knew better. Boianti, the Dark One, later the guardian, suspected that perhaps Karol had not died, a suspicion later confirmed. When Karol, now called Jude, ventured into River County to warn about the nosferitau, Boianti recognized him but kept his mouth shut.

It’s complicated, full of exceptions and special cases, and based on everyone knowing everyone else well enough to determine “That was an unfortunate accident,” vs. “You should have reacted with more restraint,” vs. “Dude, what did he think was going to happen if he did that?”

*Since the blood of Hunted creatures forms part of the Fruits of the Hunt, the blood-wine, the Hunters’ prey pays a literal blood price.

** When I worked in the Midwest, every harvest season had at least two fatal accidents in the region. Usually people were driving when exhausted and ran off the road or something. One memorable occasion involved a farmer who lost both arms to a combine, trying to clear a blockage in the throat of the combine with the mechanism still running. That’s often fatal, and there are supposed to be a lot of guards and weight-on-seat switches to keep farmers from being able to stick things into the feed mechanism when it is running. Alas, people get in a hurry, racing daylight and the weather and peak crop quality, and safety switches sometimes fail.

The Second Oldest Historical Specialty?

Because my mind, like the Lord, “works in mysterious ways/ [its] wonders to perform,” I was watching the video for Sabaton’s “Steel Commanders,” and started 1) critiquing the band members in the tank*, and 2) thinking about military history. I started out as a military historian, and while I love environmental history and devour it whenever given the chance, military history remains a very strong interest and default.

I have been told, by someone from a different specialty, that military history is a dead end, and that there’s not really anything new there. Now, this was said in the early 2000s, by someone who was far more into social history than any other field. I bit my tongue, as one does in grad school. I was thinking back, to the very beginning, to Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. Which is political, economic, social, and military history, with a dash of medical history as well. Is John Keegan’s The Face of Battle military or social history? What about other works? How can you isolate military history from the context of technology, politics, society, medicine, environment . . . . Unless all you are doing is “march, march, battle, battle, battle, list of dead, list of expended ordinance” you can’t.

Military history was cross-genre (to mix metaphors) long before interdisciplinary history became trendy. That is, when it’s done well. I have read “history of battle” accounts that managed to make the Battle of Leipzig boring. It can be done. It must have taken effort on the part of the historian.

Which came first, military or political history? If you can only study one field [the horror, the horror], which specialty would give a person a broad grasp of events, policy choices, and the “why” of the past? I think you could make a very strong case for military history. It and political history were the first two formal academic branches, once academics became a thing, and Von Ranke and his generation started chasing students into the archives to actually, you know, look at the documents and see what the records said. Obviously, governments and political figures left copious volumes of material, the Catholic Church likewise. So did armies and generals, at least most generals. A few were, let us say, reticent to the point of raising eyebrows.

Military history, when done well, includes so much more than just “people fought, here’s where, here’s how, here’s who won.” I think Keegan was the first to really pull/kick the field into some new directions, although Barbara Tuchmann’s The Guns of August might rival Keegan. The discipline is not a dead end, not any more, and it is a field that I think more people would do well to study. Especially those with political ambitions.

Yes, I’m a Pedant

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula. (1992 film) It was very useful for the Lone Hunter’s story, and is a bit different from most Dracula movie scores. However, it had been a while since I’d seen the film, and I didn’t remember all the details, so I went on-line. And remembered why I never finished watching the movie.

I’d hit a wall of disbelief very early on, and had quit. The film depends on a massive theological error in order to make the plot work, and I couldn’t get past that. Now, I re-read the plot, shake my head, and my writer brain kicks in. How could that error become a legit plot point, without making the huge blunders?

OK, I realize that asking Hollywood to get medieval Catholic or Orthodox theology correct is . . . a stretch. However, it could be done. To summarize, in the film Vlad III Tepes is told by a priest that his wife is damned past any hope of salvation because she committed suicide to avoid being captured by the Ottomans*. Vlad loses his temper, to put it mildly, trashes the chapel, and stabs a cross with his sword, swearing that he’ll avenge his wife’s death if he has to draw on the powers of H-ll to do it.

Here’s where I hit the wall. The priest was wrong, at least if you read the Summa Theologica. Suicide was indeed considered one of the fast-tracks to damnation, with a very few exceptions. One of those exceptions was if the person committed suicide to avoid rape. I’m not as conversant with Orthodox theology of the time, but I’ve read that they too had a similar exception. This isn’t the place to argue over theology, but that movie bit was such a blatant error that . . . Yeah. That and that it was Vlad desecrating a painting and the cross*, NOT desecrating a consecrated Host, that damned him as well.

So, here’s where the writer brain kicked in. What if . . . the priest had deliberately lied to Dracula? Why would a priest do that? What if he was in the pay of one of Vlad’s many enemies, and they wanted Vlad out of the picture? What if there was some sort of magical protection tied to being in good standing with the Church, and the priest (who was forsworn, or being blackmailed, or . . .) took the opportunity to push Vlad to the breaking point? Vlad is excommunicate, he loses the shield of faith, and his enemies swoop in. Except he’s a better magic worker than they realize, and he casts a desperation revenge spell that . . . leads to the rest of the movie. And the priest gets what’s coming to him later on, but repents before he dies.

See, that would work, it wouldn’t make me throw things at the screen, and you only add a few elements to the film. But that’s my writer brain, and my having read parts of the Summa and other things. And it would move farther away from Bram Stoker’s book, so Hollywood wouldn’t really be interested.

Edited to add: OK, gang, now I’ve got a mental image of Deborah being all sweet and asking her slightly long-toothed grandfather, “Bunicot, where do Hunters come from?” And Arthur looking thoughtful and saying, “Well, Little One, the tale as it was told to me begins a very long time ago . . . “

*Or out of love when she is told in error that Dracula is dead. Which could still work – again, the corrupted priest or another traitor setting up the situation where Dracula renounces the church and . . .

**OK, I can sort of see the director’s choice here, because Bram Stoker said that using Hosts to deny a vampire access to his resting place was OK, and Van Helsing would have been in as big of a religious mess as Dracula if the director had been consistent. Personally, a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with silver and a few other things would be higher on my list of “things I need to get rid of a vampire.”

The Wild Hunt

That time of year is drawing closer, the time of short days, weak sun, long nights, and strange things riding under the stars. And for old legends that re-surface in interesting places, from fantasy novels to country songs and folk-tale collections. One story in particular returns over and over with twists and new developments: the Wild Hunt. Continue reading

Terms of Confusion

I was reading an older (1980s) summary history of the German-speaking lands in the Early Modern period, and tripped over terms. What did he mean by Hohenstaufen? It took a bit for me to catch on that it mean the Staufer/Staufen dynasty, rather than the secondary branch of the family. You see, terms change, and I’ve been reading this period (so to speak) in German or with the current terminology, which uses the German. So I tripped.

Usually it is a technical term that causes the “confused puppy head tilt.” Stall is one. Not where horses stay, not a market booth, but when something quits. In the case of what I was immersed in this past weekend (17 hours worth, plus), it means “the moment when airflow over the wing detaches, flow ceases to be laminar, and the wing loses lift.” When most people hear “stall,” they think of what happens when a vehicle’s engine quits (drive into hood deep water, for example, or when the fuel lines become filled with air.) In an airplane, the engine can be turning quite loudly, there may be multiple obnoxious horns going off, an equally obnoxious flight instructor [yo!] saying, “Hold it, hold it, more right rudder, more right rudder,” and so on. In other words, not quiet at all! Or it can be quiet indeed, aside from the obnoxious horn going off. Aerodynamic stall vs. engine stall. Something quit, in both cases, but that’s about the only similar thing. They have rather different remedies.

Part of this is that terms do change over time. When I was first reading about paleo-mammals, the large wild bovine of Europe that lived until the 1700 was an auroch, and many of them were aurochs. Now one is an aurochs, and multiple are aurochsen. It’s a German plural, at least to my eyes. Instead of calling a dynasty Hohenstaufen, we use the preferred (and somewhat clearer) German term Staufen or Staufer. The Welfs are still the Welfs. Were the events of 1642-49 in England a revolution or a civil war? Both terms are used, and both could be considered accurate, depending on the political interpretation of the writer. So you can tell how the historian sees the event by which term is in the book’s title.

And then there’s the greatest technical term laden mass of confusion ever filmed, in my opinion:

Gee, any wonder someone pulls it up whenever there’s a continuing ed session about FAA terminology?

Friday Query

So, is there any interest in my releasing a story in the secondary series “Familiar Generations” about the Lone Hunter? It would be a $.99 short story, the first in the next “generation” of Familiar stories. No, don’t worry, Lelia, Tay and Co. are not going to disappear with Overly Familiar, but I’d like to get something out since I’m setting Familiar Paths aside this month to work on the next Merchant book.

Also: Is anyone willing to answer some questions about the US Army and the area around Ft. Bragg? I need some info about checking into a base, and if a scenario would be reasonable (for Mike and Rich versions of reasonable.) If so, please ping my e-mail (see the About) page, and thanks in advance.

Vlad III Dracula and Changes in Government

No, not the revolving door that was “who governed Wallachia, either in theory or in truth.” Even with a score card, I have trouble keeping things straight in that part of the world. No wonder the place is so overflowing with odd, uncanny, or “shoot first, then bury, then identify” attitudes towards everyone else.

During the time Vlad Tepes was attempting to maintain something like government in Wallachia, and the Hunyadis were doing the same in Hungary, rulers all across Europe worked to decrease the power of the nobility and to strengthen the central government, such as it was. The Holy Roman Empire was an exception here, as usual, but the dukes and electors worked to gain more control at the expense of peasants and lower nobles. The old system of traditional group rights, of peasants providing food, fiber, fuel, and all other goods in exchange for protection (physical and spiritual) had broken down in the 1300s for a number of reasons. What came after led to the trend I’m looking at, and teasing apart.

If you go through the history of the 1300s-1400s, you will find a lot of peasant revolts. The German Peasants Revolt of the 1520s was just another one of those, although it tied into the Protestant Reformation in some ways. The battle cry for all these was the same: When Adam dug and Eva span, then there was no noble man. Back when everyone worked for a living, no nobles bothered anyone.

When the climate shift of the early 1300s (onset of Little Ice Age) led to famine, animal disease, and human disease, up to a quarter of the land could no longer be farmed. Too cold, too wet, with a shorter growing season, or too exposed to the much stronger storms that swept across the North Sea coast and southern Europe, the land lay idle and reverted to fallow, pasture, or wilderness. The nobles still wanted their due, even as harvests shrank and conditions grew worse. They had wars to fight, tournaments to participate in, daughters to dower and sons to have knighted. They liked their luxuries, all of which required more and more money to pay for. They no longer provided good value for the exchange, and began trampling on traditional rights.

This led to the peasant revolts. The Black Death further tipped the balance, especially in Western Europe. The old ways lingered, but some nobles reluctantly faced reality. Fewer people survived to work the land, but people still needed to eat. So the harshest conditions of servitude and the worst labor contracts faded away, at least temporarily, in the face of necessity. If a count wanted people to work his fields, he needed to pay them a decent percentage of the harvest and not make too onerous demands on them. At least in the short term. However, this collided with the world of orders and station. G-d had decreed every man his place and station, and one’s duty was to remain there. If G-d didn’t want a person to be a farm worker, He wouldn’t have made that person a farm worker. Or so one of the arguments went.

The peasants fought back against the increasing claims on their labor and crops. They produced for survival, not for the market. The group throve or failed together. The group needed the commons, the woodlot and wood rights, the familiar crops and old ways that worked. Grain stayed home to be eaten, not sold to merchants or distant towns. If you have read about the lead-up to the French Revolution, this sounds dreadfully familiar and are probably nodding. The mental world of “survival first” didn’t change between 1300 and 1789. For the group rights and security to be threatened led to “rebellion” and “revolt.”

The great lords, the electors, prince-archbishops, dukes, kings, and others wanted more control. No peasant uprisings triggered by nobles, no powerful nobles skimming off taxes and threatening the power of the monarch, the monarchs wanted order and calm. This meant efficiency, and clearing out the underbrush of traditional group rights, as well as breaking the nobility. The Black Death did some of that by thinning the ranks literally, but the survivors wanted to return to “the good old days.” The centralizers looked ahead and wanted to move on to the good new days, when a king could get all possible taxes, in full, on time, and everything was tidy, neat, and in his favor.

The Tudors in England got ahead of the others, and the Spanish Habsburgs weren’t far behind. Farther east, the nobles remained too strong, as the peasants found out in Bavaria and Saxony in the 1520s, and earlier in Wallachia. Granted, Wallachia was . . . chaos personified, with Hungary, Bessarabia, Poland, the local nobles, and Turks all claiming a chunk or all of the area. You had Saxon towns with their traditional rights, granted in the 1200s. You had peasants, Hungarian nobles, Szekley nobles (sort of Magyar but not), and anyone else who had wandered in. Orthodox and Catholics snarled at each other, and the Turks played everyone off of everyone else. Someone needed to settle the place down and make order of it. Vlad Tepes assumed that he would be the one.

As we know, it didn’t work out that way. He tried hard, eliminated a lot of enemies, caused the Ottomans to have second and third thoughts about messing with the place (at least for a while) and ran head-long into the Hungarian Hunyadies. Mathias Corvinus Hunyadi was not about to stop his efforts to centralize Hungarian power, which he felt extended to include Wallachia.

In many ways, Vlad III Dracula was a very typical eastern European Renaissance prince. His politics were those of the monarchs around him. Granted, his approach to “how do I deal with enemies/traitors/yes” tended to be a bit more, ahem, pointed that was practiced farther west, but the Hungarians and Croats did similar when fighting the Turks, and the Turks probably started it. “Sources are vague” as they say.

You know, history is a mess. Blargh. Remind me why I do this for a living? šŸ˜‰

Roads, Home, and Wanderers

The first time I heard Marta Keen’s song “Homeward Bound,” a defense contractor had made a video of US service men and women about those who were out and would come home again and used that as the background music. This was 2003 or so. Ever since then, the song always takes my breath a little. I’ve used it as inspiration for several scenes. It is not the only song that makes me wonder about people who are away and turning toward home, or looking for home.

I was working on the story, or perhaps “extended scene” “Haven of Rest,” about Martha, the widowed herb-wife, and the Hunter who calls himself Jude. Why I even started the piece, I have no idea, but I had a recording by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the baritone Bryn Terfel that includes “Homeward Bound.” It may be my favorite version of that song, although their pure choral version is also very good. That song also inspired a scene in one of the Cat books, where Rada assures Joschka that she will always try to return to him. She can’t promise that she will come home, they both know that. But she will try.

The theme of the ones who go out and the ones who wait runs through most of my stories, I think because it has been true for so much of human life. Men hunted, or went out and traded, or went to war, or explored. Women stayed at home, tended the home place, managed the business and household, raised children, and waited. It’s a theme that appears in music as far back as ballads go. “Shenandoah” is probably the first one that I learned, the capstan shanty. It has been arranged by almost everyone, it seems, which suggests that it speaks to a lot of people. Gregorian’s setting of the Dire Straits song “Brothers in Arms” kicked off detail in a scene in an earlier Cat novel, since what came to mind didn’t really work for Rada or her associates, but needed to go into a story. It also finds a place in the fragment “Donald McGillivray,” which may or may not ever become a full-fledged story.

When I was younger, I tended to wander a fair amount. Which collided hard with my need to nest, to have a place to come back to. In the fall, when the weather changes, I get that itch again, the urge to roam, to head west to see what’s over the horizon. Stan Rogers’ “The Giant” hints that perhaps it’s in my blood, one of those things that never quite leaves those of us with proto-Indo-European in our veins. But I also heartily agree with the lyrics of Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home.” Away and back, away and back, wandering and finding my own place and way, but still thinking of what I left, perhaps wondering where I went astray (if I did), it’s a pattern found in stories back to The Odyssey and earlier.

Young men go out, viking, or raiding, or exploring, getting it out of their systems and returning to be stable men of the community. Some older men go out as well, called by “Something lost beyond the ranges/ Something lost and waiting, Go!” as Kipling put it. Or called to protect what remains at home.

The lone Hunter isn’t Arthur 2.0, or AndrĆ©. Jude is more bookish, not quite a nerd but bordering on it for clan versions of bookish. He’s pretty well balanced emotionally, for someone who intended to dieā€”perhapsā€”and failed. Arthur fought with every atom of his being to live, if only to spite those who wanted him dead. Jude likes baking, and does it very well. But Jude is in exile, not entirely self imposed, and has his own challenges. He’s alone, and that could well be his death.

Until he risks his lifeā€”perhapsā€”to warn Arthur about a nosferitau . . . And sets one foot on what might be the long road home.

Different Time, Different Minds

It’s hard to get a modern mind into a late medieval or even early-modern mindset. Especially for Americans (and Canadians as well, I suspect), our philosophical and cultural world is so very different from that of the late 1400s-1700 that it’s a wrench. Reading lots of documents and accounts from the time helps, a little, but those are often “official” and rather tidier than the average mental world of the run-of-the-mill soldier, sailor, traveler, or businessman. It takes work, and digging, and a deliberate effort to set aside what we know and to accept the framework of Back Then. And even so, it is an imperfect fit at best, because we lack some of the ingrained culture, the part of the iceberg deeply submerged.

I was thinking about this for a couple of reasons. One, I discovered that some of my students have had certain language patterns ingrained in them, to the point that they don’t see why using a certain term makes zero sense in the context of what they are discussing. Two, it’s the annual “Europeans are horrible murdering conquers who were incompetent as well” furor. Three, working on the Merchant books requires me to put on a different mental “costume” of sorts and to force myself into a world that often collides with my own. [As an aside, Arthur has one foot in that world, which might explain a little of why he is so draining to write as a POV character.] It is a mental world where survival comes first, where casual violence is the normal state of things, not the exception, where death is an everyday reality, where women are very important but not equals, and where life is hard and short. Tarno Halson is just over thirty. If you saw him in person, you’d think he was older because of how he moves and his outlook on life.

So when I read the accounts of people like Columbus, and Bernal Diaz, or descriptions of the Thirty Years War, the world of Ivan IV (the Terrible) as written by people of the time, it can jar and jar hard. I think something that sums up far too much of the Thirty Years War (and warfare into the modern day, outside of Europe and the Anglo-Sphere) is the statue of the soldier and the woman that is one of the plates in Geoffrey Parker’s book about the Seventeenth Century. I’m not going to describe it, other than to say that it is an amazingly well done depiction of something horrible about to happen. But someone commissioned the sculpture, and kept it, and valued it. That, right there, makes me pause and wonder about mental worlds. But I do delve into that world, because if I’m going to come anywhere close to understanding what makes people do things, and how other minds see things, I need to try. It can be entertaining, and amazing, and terrifying. Sort of like making myself think through blood-and-soil nationalism. I understand it, I can explain it, I can even write it as a point of view, but it itches and doesn’t fit.

Our world isn’t that of back then. Our rational scientific answers for “why” would sound as strange to Columbus, or Hugo Groetius, as miasma theory and the need to balance humors, or the casta system of the Hispanic colonies sounds to us. Back then, they had reasons based on observation and extrapolation that made good sense, even if they weren’t correct. Today, we do the same. Some things that were morally wrong in the early-modern world are just fine today, and things we condemn today were accepted as normal. And some things were excessive for both of us. The conquistadors were most certainly not saints. After 700 years of warfare, then crossing the Atlantic looking for riches and glory, well, saints are going to be very, very unusual. You know things had to be horrific when even Cortez wrote that what his allies did to the last Aztec defenders was appalling. So I’m not surprised that the Spanish, Portuguese, and others acted the way they did. Disappointed, perhaps, but not overwhelmed with surprise. So Charlemagne had multiple wives and official (and unofficial) lady friends. As did Charles V, at least the lady-friends part. Um, they were powerful men with lots of money (OK, Charles had some budgeting difficulties. Moving right along . . .) What do you expect? I’d hope for better, but *shrugs*

The point being, when we demonize people from the past for not having our modern sensibilities, we’re demonizing ourselves. When we elevate one group in the past as the pure, innocent victims, and make the others into horrible monsters who should have known better, we warp the story and strip the humanity from both groups. Most Native Americans/First Nations/whatever we choose to call them were not saintly, environmentally perfect Children of the Earth. They enslaved, massacred, loved, dreamed, murdered, seduced, fought, and were people. Likewise the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, and everyone else. We are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. That’s an amazing – and humbling – inheritance. Warts and all.

So, He’s Related to Him, and Her, So That Means . . . Arrrrrgh!

Or: Why Environmental History is SOOOOOOO much easier than European history.

Due to a complicated series of events, and research for the next Merchant book, I found myself wading into the politics of the Guelphs and Gibilines, or the Welf and Staufer and Salier families (for those north of the Alps). I’ve been known to joke that the Spanish Habsburg family tree is a stick, because of a number of too-close-for-their-own-good marriages. The alliances, marriages, separations, and relationships between the major and many minor nobles of the Holy Roman Empire, and to a lesser degree (but not too much lesser) Hungary, Bohemia, and Poland look like a thorn-thicket stretching from Wales to Kiev.

Which does tend to explain a few cases of “Why didn’t [Emperor] just slap down [problem person] ten years earlier?” And “Why did he think trying to intervene in [Poland/Hungary/Bohemia]’s civil war was a good idea?” Because he, whoever he was at the time, had a dog or at least an in-law in the fight. Sometimes. Sometimes? Eh, pure power politics, and once or twice I suspect sheer boredom back home.

One reason for all the complicated crosses and out-crosses is that in the 900s-1200s, give or take, the Church did not allow marriages between relatives to the 7th degree. Even second or third cousin was out, unacceptable without a lot of paperwork and penances and really good reasons. So you have Salian princes from the Rhineland looking at duchesses in Anjou, France, but since they have a common great-grandfather, the betrothal is challenged by the Church. It also means that the two family heads on opposite sides of “who gets the imperial crown” fight may also be cousins (probable), uncle and nephew (possible), and step-father and step-son (at least twice and wasn’t that a mess). And the occasional “I’m marrying from way the heck outside the region, in part for dowry, in part because I need neutral help, and in part because I give up trying to shop local.”

OK, perhaps I exaggerate on the last one, but it’s easy to imagine someone looking at the list of possible spouses and having a priest scratch off ten of the eleven candidates, and that last one is only eight years old, and you are twenty. Thus the occasional Byzantine, Rus, Anglo, or Scandinavian popping up in Germanic pedigrees. Trade, diplomacy, and other things played larger roles, but consanguinity was a major legal concern.

So, what I was trying to sort out was: if Frederick Barbarossa’s election as Holy Roman Emperor was a sort of compromise between the (Guelphs) Welfs and Babenburgs (Bavaria, Austria) and (Ghibellines) Saliens and Staufers (Rhineland, central German lands), why did Barbarossa not deal more firmly with Henry of Bavaria and Saxony earlier? Well, in part, the three most powerful dukesā€”regional rulersā€”in the central Empire were Barbarossa’s uncles, including Henry of Saxony. Among other things, but the family connection played a role.

However, when we think of Guelphs and Ghibellines, we usually think of Italy. After Barbarossa’s election, the Italians seem to have looked north, shrugged a little, kept the names of the two sides, and continued going after each other for other reasons. Ah, Italian Renaissance politics.