History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

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Agamemnon
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History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby Agamemnon » 28 Mar 2015, 14:19

History is not Boring: Cool Stories That Actually Happened (Probably)

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A common argument I hear in favor of fantasy literature and games is that real history is boring. I will here defend that not only is history not boring, but it is actually more interesting than anything we could come up with. One need only look at A Song of Ice and Fire to pick out the historical inspirations - Hadrian's Wall, the Protestant Reformation, the Angles conquest (really? he called them Andals, of all things), even the landscape of westeros is basically the british isles with ireland turned sideways. The list goes on.

So here I will begin posting really cool people and events from history, either to inspire your own game as a historical pursuit or to take the ideas, stories, and elements for use in your own fantasy adaptations.

To get us started, some cool stuff from more or less own period:

Cesare Borgia
(1498-1507)
A Spaniard and an Italian, son of a Pope, ex-cardinal (first person to ever resign the office!) who becomes a condottieri (soldier), commands the papal armies, eventually carves out his own state and is ultimately cast from power by a series of betrayals and political machinations. An excellent tale of passion, ambition, assassination, and political intrigue. The Showtime Borgias isn't terrible either, even if it starts quite slowly.

Hernán Cortés
(1485-1547)
Another Spaniard who goes from being a relative nobody (born of lesser nobility) to carve a bloody mark in the history books. Explorer, soldier, military captain. Brilliant politician that successfully forges alliances among natives in order to bring down an empire.

Sir Kenelm Digby
(1603-1665)
English courtier, diplomat, natural philosopher, alchemist, fencer. Born not only Catholic, but the son of one of the Gunpowder Plotters, he still manages to gain enough favor at court to land a seat in the Royal Academy, later becomes a privateer, captures spanish, dutch, and flemish ships. Gets involved in the civil war, fights quite a few duels.. guy is absolutely fascinating.

Johannes Liechtenauer
Mysterious fight-master who was active sometime in the 14th century. Most of the later fight-masters trace their own "school" back to him in some way. Even with the limited information we have, he's worth reading on. The mind immediately wants to cast this wandering yoda-like elderly sword-saint traveling through the German countryside.

Hans Talhoffer
(1410-1482)
Professional swordsman turned Fight-master that eventually founds and becomes grandmaster of an entire German school of fencing. True renaissance man who was also studied a number of academic subjects throughout his life.

Swordsmen cultures and organizations
Brotherhood of St. Mark
15th century German fencing guild. Talhoffer may have actually founded it. Some really cool information on the way fencing guilds functioned. The article also mentions rivalry with other fencing guilds - the Lukasbruder (Brotherhood of Saint Luke) and the Federfechter. Immediately, I want to run a game about rival fencing guilds and the bloody conflicts between students vying for position within their own guild, and defending the honor and prowess of their guild through battle with its rivals.

Rodeleros
Spanish Sword and Buckler men, originally a troop type invented by the Italians. High risk, high reward troop types that become popular as adventurers and mercenaries, including following Cortes into the New World.

Landsknecht
Arguably some of the most famous mercenaries from the Renaissance period, known for their colorful clothing and - perhaps most famously - their massive two-handed swords.

Tercio
Also known as the "Spanish Third," they were the first modern, professional volunteer army. While Landsknecht certainly get a lot of attention, the culture and lifestyle of the Tercio is fascinating.

"Soldiers serving in the tercios were proud and extremely cautious men when it came to their personal honour. So much so, that they would die before staining their reputation as soldiers."

"Such an obsession for matters of honour and reputation would provoke numerous duels, which, added to the soldiers' fierceness on the battlefield, earned the tercios a quarrelsome reputation. When fighting together with allies or tercios from different nationalities, it was common that the Spanish ones demanded the most decisive, dangerous or important positions in combat, in order to defend their reputation. In fact, the Spanish army was the only one at the time which had to include punishments for those who dared to break formation due to eagerness for fighting or to distinguish themselves in the face of the enemy."


More to come, but for now: If you guys have commentary or (even better) something to add to the list, please do!
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby higgins » 29 Mar 2015, 13:29

Let's not forget...

Sir John Hawkwood
(~1320-1394)
An lowborn Englishman that made his name and fortune waging wars in Italy as a mercenary. Master of not only tactics, but of politics, he switched sides numerous times for his own advantage and threatening to desert if not paid, amassed a sizable fortune in both coin and land. He even became the commander-in-chief of the army of Florence. After Hawkwood died, the Florentines wanted to erect a huge bronze statue of him, but since that proved prohibitively expensive, they commissioned a fresco instead -- showing how magnificent the statue would have looked if they had decided to build it. :lol:
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby Agamemnon » 29 Mar 2015, 15:33

William Adams
(1564-1620)
English sailor, explorer, merchant captain, and samurai. Served in the Royal Navy under Sir Francis Drake, fought the spanish armada and became Master of a ship at an early age. Launched a two-year expedition to the arctic, eventually became the first westerner to ever reach Japan, and then becomes a Samurai of all things (making him also the first Western samurai). Ultimately becomes responsible both for an upgrade in Japanese naval technology and helps establish trade routes to the west.
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby hector » 30 Mar 2015, 06:58

William Adams was the inspiration for James Clavell's Shogun - which is a fascinating bit of historical fiction. He was the first Englishman to go to Japan, but the Portuguese were already trading with the Japanese by that point, and the Jesuit priests were already spreading Christianity there.
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby Agamemnon » 30 Mar 2015, 08:12

hector wrote:William Adams was the inspiration for James Clavell's Shogun - which is a fascinating bit of historical fiction. He was the first Englishman to go to Japan, but the Portuguese were already trading with the Japanese by that point, and the Jesuit priests were already spreading Christianity there.

I stand corrected!

And I'll add

Sir John Hawkwood
(1320-1294)
Englishman, Knight, Mercenary, Condottiere. One of those fun characters about whom there are a half dozen versions of every story. He served in the hundred years war, traditionally thought to have been at Crécy and/or Poitiers. Eventually knighted by the Black Prince himself, or maybe he knighted himself. With this guy, I wouldn't be surprised if he pulled it off. Mercenaries his way through France, later becomes the leader of the White Company and marches into Italy where he fights under nearly every faction at some point or another, always to his own profit and benefit. He nearly single-handedly proves the "double-crossing mercenary" trope, and amasses a substantial fortune in the process.
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Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: "Now it’s complete because it’s ended here."
Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib, the Princess Irulan
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby Agamemnon » 30 Mar 2015, 16:46

Agamemnon wrote:
hector wrote:William Adams was the inspiration for James Clavell's Shogun - which is a fascinating bit of historical fiction. He was the first Englishman to go to Japan, but the Portuguese were already trading with the Japanese by that point, and the Jesuit priests were already spreading Christianity there.

I stand corrected!

And I'll add

Sir John Hawkwood
(1320-1294)
Englishman, Knight, Mercenary, Condottiere. One of those fun characters about whom there are a half dozen versions of every story. He served in the hundred years war, traditionally thought to have been at Crécy and/or Poitiers. Eventually knighted by the Black Prince himself, or maybe he knighted himself. With this guy, I wouldn't be surprised if he pulled it off. Mercenaries his way through France, later becomes the leader of the White Company and marches into Italy where he fights under nearly every faction at some point or another, always to his own profit and benefit. He nearly single-handedly proves the "double-crossing mercenary" trope, and amasses a substantial fortune in the process.


Haha. Somehow, I managed to pick the same guy Mr. Higgins did. Teaches me for updating on my way out the door. To make amends, one of my favorite characters in history, and arguably a 'Bastards protagonist if ever there was one:

Jeanne de Clisson
(1300–1359)
The Lioness of Brittany. Very cool. Breton Privateer, after her husband is beheaded swears revenge on the French King and Charles de Blois in particular. She sells her family lands and launches a one-woman crusade. Winds up fighting the french, massacring garrisons, and creating a pirate fleet of three warships dramatically entitled "The Black Fleet" which would hunt the English channel and kill entire crews at a time.
Sword and Scoundrel: On Role-Playing and Fantasy Obscura

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: "Now it’s complete because it’s ended here."
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby higgins » 31 Mar 2015, 03:49

Agamemnon wrote:Haha. Somehow, I managed to pick the same guy Mr. Higgins did.
To your credit, the writeup is completely different. Nice to have multiple viewpoints on things.

And I dig the Lioness! :twisted:
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby higgins » 31 Mar 2015, 05:10

But to continue on badass Breton women called Jeanne...

Jeanne de Montfort
(~1295-1374)
a.k.a. Jeanne la Flamme or Fiery Joanna. Consort Duchess of Brittany, she took up arms after her husband got captured and a rival faction contested their family's claim to the land. She allied with the British and while setting up the town defenses, encouraged people to fight, and urged women to "cut their skirts and take their safety in their own hands." But setting up a a stronghold wasn't enough for her. Spotting a weak point from her battlements, she took three hundred men and raided the enemy camp that was besieging her, setting it ablaze. Then she sailed to England to further reinforce her ties with the British king. On their way back, they were ambushed by French-allied Spaniards and she picked up a GLAIVE to fight off the Spanish fleet that was out to get her. She ended her days in England, suffering from mental illness, but saw her cause succeed before she passed.

Image

And to make the similarities in these two contemporary women even more bizarre, they both fought the French King and Charles de Blois. To make things even more wild, the The Lioness of Brittany's husband's brother acted on Fiery Joanna's behalf to get the British to relieve her siege. In short, the two women were allies. *mind blown*

I wonder if they ever met.
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby Agamemnon » 02 Apr 2015, 19:51

Catalina de Erauso
(1592-1650)
Female soldier, conquistador, duelist, womanizer, gleeful and unrepentant murderess.

Runs away from home at age 15, rejecting both marriage and a stay at a nunnery to go on wild adventures. Disguised as a man, she makes her way to the new world. Becomes a soldier under the Spanish, distinguishes her(him)self in battle against the natives, slays a chieftain, earns a Lieutenancy.

Fights several duels, including accidentally killing her brother without him ever recognizing her. Both before and after the new world, she continues to murder people seemingly at random (she may well have been a D&D character), including in bar fights, over gambling, and so on. Eventually gets an audience with the pope that wipes her legal slate clean and a special dispensation to go on wearing men's clothing. She then goes on to kill a couple more people over games of cards.

One of the last anecdotes she gives in her autobiography is of her meeting a cardinal, who remarks, “your only fault is that you are a Spaniard.”

“With all due respect, that is my only virtue.”

(are we starting to learn something about the Spanish in this period?)
Sword and Scoundrel: On Role-Playing and Fantasy Obscura

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: "Now it’s complete because it’s ended here."
Collected Sayings of Muad’Dib, the Princess Irulan
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby Marras » 14 Apr 2015, 16:16

Cool entries, it's a shame I don't have any to contribute...
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby EinBein » 07 Jul 2015, 15:08

I know that this one does not fit in your timeframe, but it is one of my favorite historical characters:

Haraldr "Hardråde" Sigurðarson
(~1015 – 25 September 1066)
Soldier, general, king, humerous poet and ruthless politician

Harald began fighting his way from Norway (at the age of fifteen) via Russia/Ukraine to Constantinople. He battled on "nearly every front of the Byzantian Empire" in his role as officer of the Varangian Guard, but in the end had to flee the service for the Romans in a bloodcurdling flight (because he was not allowed to leave).
He battled back to the north where he eventually received the Norwegian crown, betraying allies and striking remarkable deals on the way.
In the end, he failed to claim the English crown and his death became for many historians the "end of the Viking Age" and he the "last great Viking".

In his fiftyone years he had fought uncountable battles, was known as a humorous poet and described as ruthless and defaulting. A real bastard for what it's worth!
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby Forknife » 11 Jul 2015, 07:15

Eventhough i'm from the neighbouring province and we both cherish our mutual petty rivalry:

https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pier_Gerlofs_Donia
(page is in dutch, so ill give you the short of it)
(~1480 - 28 oktober 1520)

Great Pier was born a farmers son, although his mother was landed nobility.

During the times the dukes of Holland wanted to lay claim to Frisia (Friesland), Pier was a farmer living with his wife and two kids, when Saxion mercenaries plundered and torched his village, killing many a family member, fellow villager and also his wife. He lost custody of his children to his mother.

Pier lost everything and it fired him to call upon a rebellion against the occupation of Friesland. In a place called Arum, he founded an army called the Arumer Black Hope. His army consisted of farmers, impoverished nobility, bandits and highwaymen.

Great Pier led his army and his rebel fleet with which he plundered Hollands ships and cities. In his biggest sea battle, Pier captured 28 of Hollands ships and 500 crew were ruthlessly tossed overboard.

Great Pier was said to be a giant of a man, broad shouldered, with a long black beard and savage dark eyes. A terrifying man when angered. He was so strong it was said he could carry a 1000 pound (500kg) horse on his shoulder.

Pier dominated any battlefield he was on with a massive 2-handed sword, of which the Frisian museum has a replica, measuring at 2.13 meters, weighing 6.6kg. It was said he could chop off multiple opponents heads in a single blow, whereas lesser men needed at least one per opponent, and most men more then that to reach the same effect.

Allegedly Pier used a phrase in Frisian to determine if ship occupants on the Zuiderzee were Frisian. If they couldn't repeat it, they weren't Frisian and Pier would chop theirs heads off with his giant sword.

"Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries"
"Butter, Rye bread and green cheese, who can not say it, is not a true Fries"

The story goes that a seer told Pier that the sea would be the death of him and with an aching heart he abbandoned the struggle on the Zuiderzee. He settled in the city of Sneek, where three years later he died consumed by his longing for the sea.
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby higgins » 11 Jul 2015, 13:56

Ooh! So cool that you guys have kept this thread alive. Especially for us to learn about some of the more obscure guys like this Pier, whom I definitely hadn't heard of. So, I've got to add one more myself, although a quite bit more contemporary one.

Image

Marie Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert
(1821–1861)
a.k.a. Lola Montez was a "Spanish dancer", courtesan, actress and a duelist. She was an Irishwoman that toured the Europe as a performer and eventually settled in Paris where she met Alexandre Dumas, whom she was rumored to have a romantic relationship with. Later she engaged to one of Dumas' friends, who perished in a pistol duel. Lola was then quoted to have wished to fight the challenger herself, if the slight would have permitted this.

So she went on to Munich and became the mistress to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who made her Countess of Landsfeld. She had great influence over the monarch and excised numerous liberal reforms and literally threw back the money people offered for her to leave. As the Revolutions of 1848 took place in German region, she fled to the United States.

In America, Lola gave numerous lectures on "Gallantry, Heroines of History and other subjects." She was highly critical of the "Modern Women's Right Movement." She felt that rather than lobbying men to give them more rights, women should endeavor to become strong and powerful themselves.

Lola backed up that philosophy with actions -- she challenged at least two men to duels with poison pills, and at least one with the pistol. About that latter, The Trenton Evening Times reported that:

“Lola Montez was skillful with both pistol and rapier... She once challenged a journalist at Grass Valley, California, to meet her with pistols according to prevailing rules governing such meetings, and, upon his refusal to do so thrashed him with a cowhide upon a public street.”

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Despite her spirit, Lola's health was in decline due to heavy smoking and tertiary syphilis. She spent her last days in rescue work among women and died in Brooklyn, New York due to a stroke and pneumonia.
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby EinBein » 12 Jul 2015, 06:27

Good stories, both. This Great Pier instantly reminded me of this fellow countryman:

Hans Kohlhase
(~1500 - 22 March 1540)
Merchant, highwayman, pillager, outlaw

Hans was known as an honest and relatively wealthy merchant, living in Cölln, Germany (today consumed in the city of Berlin), he had a wife, a son and two daughters.

Image

In 1532, he was on his way to Leipzig to attend the autumn fare, when some tributaries of landlord Günther von Zaschwitz accused him of horse theft and confiscated two of his horses.

Hans tried the official way to settle the conflict and called on his lord, Kurfürst Joachim I. von Brandenburg who in turn contacted von Zaschwitz' lord Kurfürst Johann Friedrich I. von Sachsen. During the legal dispute that followed, Hans got back his horses, but in such bad condition, that one died shortly after without solving the financial matters.

In February 1534, Hans lost his faith in the negotiations and declared an official feud against Günther von Zaschwitz and "the whole of Saxony". Naturally, this step caused much excitement and the conflict was taken seriously. On December 8th 1534, even Martin Luther wrote a letter to Hans Kohlhase, recommending him not to use violence.

[It's important to note, that the right for feuding/vendetta was cancelled after the declaration of the "Ewiger Landfriede" ("Perpetual Public Peace") in the Holy Roman Empire, but many people were still used to settle legal matters themselves]

More quarrelsome years followed until the clash escalated again and Hans began to take hostages, plunder and torch Saxon villages. He operated with a small group of three to five companions (the perfect size of a tabletop RPG group), but had many supporters in Brandenburg as well.

The new Kurfürst of Brandenburg allowed Saxon manhunt on his own territory and multiple mobile law courts entered the country, searching for Kohlhase by questioning, torturing and executing (approximately 30 to 40 people).

The most known of Kohlhase's raids was on November 7th 1538 when he plundered the village Marzahna with 35 companions.

Brandenburg began to support Saxony officially in 1539, but in the same time, the unrest due to the Saxon law courts methods increased.

But eventually, shortly after robbing a silver transport belonging to the Kurfürst of Brandenburg, Kohlhase was caught and arrested.

He was broken on the wheel for the breach of the public peace on March 22nd 1540.

---

Hans Kohlhase's struggle inspired Heinrich von Kleist's novella "Michael Kohlhaas" which has been adapted to film in 2013 "Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas".

Film trailer of "Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas".
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Re: History is not Boring: Cool stories that....

Postby higgins » 14 Jul 2015, 05:51

The reviews aren't good, but I definitely need to get my hands on that movie! :D
"You can never have too many knives."
- Logen Ninefingers, The Blade Itself

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