We’re back into megagaming season, so expect to see a fair few more After Action Reports from me over the next few months. The first of which is… Foxes and Devils!
Foxes and Devils is a re-run of my first ever megagame, Renaissance and Reformation. It’s set in Europe in the mid-16th century, aka when Henry VIII was on the throne of England.
Naturally, thanks to the Tudors, I know quite a lot of the English history of this era. And way back in 2014, I played as Louise Savoy, Queen Mother of France, so I knew a fair about about their point of view.
This time, however, I was to see the Other Side. I was to be Eleanor of Austria, an archduchess of the Hapsburg family, and sister to the Holy Roman Emperor. With great power comes great responsibility. And with that comes even more to manage than your regular megagame. Let the madness commence!
The first task was to meet my team. Our glorious emperor was a first time player, as was my Aunt Margaret. I believe Ferdinand (another brother of mine) and Charles de Lannoy (a non-family member) both had a couple of games under their hats. Finally the Imperial Chancellor, Mercurino Gattinara, was a longtime megagame friend of mine, and had in fact played as Duke of Norfolk in the Spanish Road game where I’d been Queen Elizabeth I.
Naturally I knew I couldn’t trust him an inch.
A few problems arose quickly. The Hapsburgs were the most powerful family of the time, with a vast empire under their control. But they were attacked on all fronts. They were the key Christian power to stand up to the spread of the Moorish Ottaman Empire. The Holy Roman Empire itself included many German states of various levels of loyalty to the Emperor, various levels of arrogance and desire to be independent… and various levels of conversion to the heretical Lutheranism. Spain and the Netherlands were under Hapsburg rule, but the Emperor was so busy he had to appoint Viceroys to oversee each. And our age-old enmity with France was sure to rear its ugly head sooner or later.
Luckily, we had some allies. The Pope was sure to love us, provided we stood up for Catholicism. My aunt, Catherine (yes, of Aragon) was married to the King of England. And since our family was so massive, we had a relative in every corner.
Unfortunately, things kicked off quickly…
History Repeating Itself
It seems Henry will never be content with a daughter as an heir. He wasn’t last game, and he wasn’t this game either.
Despite my early diplomacy to arrange a marriage between his daughter Mary and my brother Charles, the Emperor, it wasn’t long before Cardinal Wolsey came over to ask what we thought of Henry suggesting that Catherine “retire to a nunnery”, so Henry may marry again.
At first I entertained the idea. Obviously allowing Henry to break his marriage ties with us was a bad idea, but if we got another girl on the throne of England, and this one gave him a son, we’d have a lifelong alliance with them.
But… but that’s not what happened.
On a spur of the moment decision, I recommended to the Emperor that we refuse to support this suggestion. And then I let my knowledge of the Tudors, Philippa Gregory novels, and my Catholic upbringing take over.
Why Henry should stay married to Catherine and announce Mary as his heir
- God has blessed Henry and Catherine with a daughter. Clearly they were destined to be wed.
- Catherine knew it was her calling to be Queen of England since she was four years old. She was never called to a nunnery.
- Catherine has sworn a sacred marriage vow to obey her husband. If he requests that she retire to a nunnery, she will feel compelled to obey his wishes, even if her heart says it is not right.
- If Henry sets aside Catherine, what is to stop him from setting aside his next wife.
- My own grandmother Isabella of Castille was a fantastic female monarch, and Mary Tudor is of this line.
- With Henry’s diligent raising of her, with a strong and powerful (and Hapsburg?) husband and with the brave and intelligent advisers that England is sure to have, how could she not be a good ruler?
Then I heard from the Margrave of Brandenburg that Henry had asked for portraits of his daughters.
HE WAS A MARRIED MAN AND HE WAS SOLICITING PORTRAITS OF OTHER WOMEN!
I was outraged. I demanded to speak to the Pope, and accused Henry of simply trying to satiate his lust. He told me that he feared that the Lutherans would tempt Henry away by letting him divorce Catherine, if he didn’t take Henry’s concerns seriously. I asked what kind of Pope would let himself get bullied by the Lutherans…
I don’t think the Pope liked me very much right at that moment.
I’m fairly sure I spent at least three turns sorting out this drama… and I was so distracted that I forgot to marry anyone! But we’ll come to that later.
Meanwhile on the map, the Ottomans were causing tons of bother. There seemed to be some Ottoman pirates coming and raiding us fairly regularly, which was all my first hand experience of them. But my brother Ferdinand was constantly at the map, so I’m sure they were doing some dreadful Moorish stuff over there.
Most of the rest of my team was trying to manage the Diet. The Imperial Diet was the ruling body of the Holy Roman Empire, which had elected the Emperor, and consisted of about half the players in the room: all the German Princes. Three started off Lutheran, and many of the rest converted as the day went on.
But the Hapsburgs are a Catholic family, and it was pretty clear right from the start that this was going to cause Issues.
I mostly stayed out of the Diet, which met every turn for what seemed like ages. I’m sure some incredibly important stuff was discussed in there, but my brief forays in made it seem that mostly the Lutherans and the Catholics took turns complaining that they were being ostracised.
Back in England
Then all of a sudden, it was announced that the Pope had annulled Henry’s marriage, on the ground that she had confessed to consummating her marriage with Arthur, Henry’s brother. I was hugely suspicious of the timing of all this.
In the Hapsburg court, we had a VERY heated debate. Imperial Chancellor Gattinara insisted that we needed to make a new marriage with Henry immediately. I countered that we could NOT make peace with the man who had so publicly slandered our aunt.
We fought our causes hard and viciously. Gattinara pressed the Emperor for an answer, and he eventually agreed to look for a truce.
BUT I REFUSED TO GIVE IN. I continued arguing my point, and even went over to Gattinara, on stage and queuing up to make a marriage, to tell him that the Emperor was reconsidering and begging him to come back to court. He said that it was too late. I asked where his dowry was for my sister, and told him I would refuse to let them leave Austria… and eventually it was Henry himself that said he didn’t want to get between the Hapsburgs when they were clearly still undecided. He even suggested that he would find a French bride, and make an alliance with them, to which I said… “what’s the longest an English-French alliance has ever lasted??”
Gattinara was furious with me. I had cost us an alliance with the English and a marriage for my sister, and Henry ended up marrying the daughter of a newly converted Lutheran.
I told the Pope that if he had not given into Henry’s Lutheran threats, this would never have happened.
Roughly half the people in the room hated me at this time. Oops.
It must have been over half way through the game that I realised that our drama with the English had cost me years of my life. I was well into my 30s, my sisters well into their 20s. My own young daughter was ready to be wed. The Emperor should have been married long ago, and Ferdinand had lost his wife and was ready to be remarried.
I needed to find us matches, and fast.
Sadly, it’s a pretty tough job. We had to make Catholic marriages, otherwise the Pope, already angry at me, would suspect we were giving in to the rising Lutheran threat. And they had to be suitably noble. Ideally princes, dukes and higher. No rubbish margraves or Italian merchant families for the Hapsburgs.
But there was one big problem. The royal families of England and France should have been our best options, but we were on poor terms with both. The remaining played Royal family, Denmark, had largely converted to Lutheranism.
The unplayed options included Scotland and Portugal. Portugal we were already on fantastic terms with (in fact, I was stepmother to the current King of Portugal), so a marriage there wasn’t necessary. But marrying into Scotland would cut them off from their usual allies, the French, and also piss the English off. SOLD! We married my own daughter to James and secured the succession of the Scottish throne.
My younger sister was married to one of the (still Catholic) German Princes. Honestly… I don’t remember which one. But he was Catholic, pretty important, and he agreed to support Charlies in the Diet, so that’s what counts. And my second sister was married to someone important in Milan. Not noble enough, but we were running out of options.
For Charles, it seemed that the English and French had snapped up all the likely Catholic girls. Eventually we found one… she was granddaughter to both the King of Denmark and a member of the Diet, and she was Catholic. Unfortunately she wasn’t /terribly/ noble… and she only gave Charles a single daughter. Damnit.
And Ferdinand ended up in another childless marriage with a girl from Palatine.
Castles and Cathedrals
One of my real life counterpart’s main activities during her life was supporting the arts. My trials with the English had also left this far from my mind, but when I had a spare few minutes I agreed with Charles De Lannoy that we would spend 20 florins on the construction of two magnificent buildings – a castle in Austria, and a cathedral in Barcelona.
It was magnificent! And of course, the best way to draw attention to a new building is to unveil it to the public…
I’m a magician with polystyrene cups and paper… though you may note I only made one. It was a lot of work, okay!
The Rise of the Spinsters
The final few hours of the game was the time for myself and my (now elderly) Aunt Margaret to have our moment in the sun.
I was now well into my thirties, and knew Control would give me a dice penalty for having children. But I’ve gotten married in tons of megagames when marrying wasn’t even really a thing, so there’s no way I wasn’t going to get married in this one!
While Margaret was trying to negotiate her own marriage, with her lands in the Netherlands as the draw, I had very little of my own personal wealth or power. All I had was my charm.
And charm was what I used on the Portuguese king. Although I had married his father, he was only my stepson, so that was completely fine. He was pretty desperate for children, since his Lutheran nephew stood to inherit after he died. I promised I would do my best to give him good Catholic heirs…
To this end, I visited the Pope, and asked him to bless the marriage. Surely with God smiling on our union, we would be blessed with children!
Control gave me a massive penalty, and sure enough… I was barren. So much that it was written on my character card.
A Catholic Heir
But the King of Portugal still needed an heir! By this point I had thoroughly abandoned my fellow Hapsburgs. I searched throughout the room for a suitable child for us to adopt and raise as our heir.
The search was fruitless until the next death announcements. The Duke of Savoy had been orphaned at a young age. My plan was to adopt him, and then betroth him to the Emperor’s daughter, to strengthen the legitimacy of both parties.
I needed the permissions of:
- my husband, the King of Portugal
- my brother, the Holy Roman Emperor
- the King of France, who was the current regent for the Duke’s Savoy holdings
- the Queen Mother of France, who was also related to the Duke
- the Pope too, because we’re Catholic
and I needed to show proof that the Duke of Savoy was sufficiently related to the throne of Portugal for it not to be rejected.
I had to explain the entire scheme about six times in total. But to my utter shock, everyone said yes, including the French! I had to promise that the regency of Savoy would stay under their control… until the 15 year old boy reached his majority of course.
Everything was sorted, everything was perfect. I was married, the Portuguese throne was secured, the Emperor’s succession was secured…
Then it all went wrong.
Disaster in the Diet
I stepped into the final Diet meeting of the day to see how things were going on in there. It seemed a Catholic German Prince had invaded a Lutheran German Prince. Charles had backed the Catholic, quite rightly.
The Diet was getting more and more heated, with many Lutherans saying that Charles could not represent them. When… shock twist…
His brother Ferdinand was unanimously (or close to it) declared the new Emperor, and promised to lead them as a united Germany, putting aside religious differences.
Each Prince could decide his religion, and each Principality would take the religion of its Prince.
In my eyes, of course, the Holy Roman Empire had fallen, and I saw Ferdinand as the conniving younger brother who had been undermining the Emperor all day.
My own position was secured, and my daughter was safe in Scotland. But my adopted son was now going to be marrying a nobody, the daughter of a man who used to be Emperor.
And, like so many other megagames, Foxes and Devils ended as dramatically as it had begun.
The next megagame I’m at is Everybody Dies Harder, my own Game of Thrones themed game in Manchester on 22nd April.