Wednesday, June 6, 2012

King Riwallon I (1093-1119)

When Riwallon ascended to the throne at age 19, he was already stark bald and fat, with beady eyes and a penchant for avoiding even necessary fights. He was ardently Christian, known as a man with a keen eye for ferreting out heresy and paganism even before he became king. This tension, between his zealotry and physical cowardice, would come to define him more and more as he aged, finally leading indirectly to his death.

It is perhaps appropriate that he was crowned the same month that the First Crusade was launched. Pope Felix IV's desire to reclaim Jerusalem would, as is known, sputter to an unsuccessful conclusion five years later. The new king, not fully secure on his throne, would abstain from joining the Crusade. Whether the weight of the Breton armies would make a difference is a subject of much debate amongst historians, with the consensus being "no".

The first two years of Riwallon I's rule were spent in relative calm. He came to the throne with his heir in place, his wife, Andregoto, bearing a son named Conan a few years prior. 1095 solidified the succession, as another son, named Pierre, was born.

That same year saw Riwallon lay claim to the Irish County of Tyrone. This continued his father's dreams of a pan-Celtic kingdom. Tyrone was folded directly into the royal demesne, subject to direct rule by the king's family. Indeed, it became something of a focal point for the Breton ruler, who embarked on a program of castle building in the region.

1099 brought two foreign events which were to have far-reaching effects on the Kingdom of Brittany. The first was the overthrow of King Robert the Cruel of England by a member of the Hwicce dynasty. The Saxon Duke of Lancaster, Estmond, installed himself as ruler of a renewed England. Robert was banished to his Normandy holdings, broken and miserable, unable to match his father's brilliance.

The second event was a close relationship with the Dunkeld dynasty of Scotland. Young Prince Pierre was betrothed to Mathilda, Princess of Scotland, cementing an alliance between the two kingdoms. As it turns out, Riwallon and the Scottish king, Duncan II, became fast friends. The relationship became about more than a simple dynastic alliance, but one of two like-minded, forward thinking rulers.

This was friendship was consecrated by blood, when Brittany supplied aid against an uprising by the duchies of Atholl and Lothian against Duncan's rule. Word reached Riwallon late of this civil war, but he dispatched his armies to aid his friend, doing the heavy lifting in the crushing of the rebellion. It would not be the last time such aid was required by the Scottish throne.

The war for the Scottish crown would last for four years, until 1103. Breton blood was shed in copious quantities in the Scottish hills. It's a debt which is celebrated even today on Amiery's Day, August 13th. This national holiday commemorates the death of Baron Amiery de Rohan, commander of the Breton army. His deft generalship on that day in 1103 would seal the victory for the Scottish crown's forces, albeit at the price of his life; he was slain in personal combat with the Duke of Lothian.

On two more occasions, in 1105 and 1111 (the latter request coming from Duncan II's son, Reginald I), Breton aid was required to keep the Scottish dukes under control, though in both cases the rebellions were put down quickly. Notably, Riwallon did not personally lead his troops through any of these conflicts. There came, over the course of his middle years, subtle but intense pressure for him to overcome his cravenness. He never could and the mental stress began to mount for the king.

After aiding Duncan a second time in 1105, the Breton troops made a detour through Ireland on their way back to the peninsula. Riwallon had come into documents proving himself as a legitimate claimant to the Duchy of Munster. The duchy was besieged and brought under Breton control quickly. Riwallon smartly made Count Donchadd of Desmond duke in his stead. With an Irishman on the ducal throne, the restive province was kept remarkably sedate.

As Riwallon's reign wore on, he increased crown authority on his vassals, slowly beginning the process of centralizing royal control over Brittany. For the most part, this was met without resistance, save in the County of Leon. Its ruler, Count Ehuarn, was caught instigating a plot to lower crown authority in 1107. He evaded capture and rebelled openly against Riwallon. This was swiftly put down, his title stripped, and his young son imprisoned for life in the dungeons of Rennes.

With control of Leon ceded to the crown, all the provinces of Brittany proper were under direct royal control, save ever loyal Vannes. This gave the king immense personal reserves of wealth and manpower to draw from.

That same year, Riwallon's heir, Prince Conan, married the Countess of of Angueleme, Alix-Adele. This marriage secured that county for Riwallon's future grandson and gave a small foothold deep in the heart of Aquitaine. It was at odds with Brittany's general policy of looking to the north and west, but still a valid grab for a rich county.

The years from 1107 to 1113 were quiet, at least in terms of politics. Riwallon's personal life, however, fell off a cliff. His marriage to Andregoto was meant to be a recreation of his father's legendary love affair with his mother. Andregoto was a Jimena, just as his mother. She was ambitious, genius, passionate, just like his mother. It never worked. Riwallon chased a ghost and the couple came to hate on another.

The problems reached their climax in 1113, when Queen Andregoto demanded her own chambers. A lifetime of shame at his very real cowardice, the stress from the lofty expectations placed upon him, and this final blow drove Riwallon to madness. He became insular and frightened, insisting that his court come to official functions naked, so as to make certain they were not armed in order to murder him. He became convinced that he was communing with angels.

His councilors were deft enough to keep his worst bouts with madness hidden from common knowledge and, for the most part, his behavior was limited to the merely odd and embarrassing rather than dangerous. His nobles became restive, however, when word leaked (likely from Conan, his son and heir) that he had tortured to death the young son of the former Count Ehuarn.

This state of things persisted until August of 1119. The king died in his sleep, poison poured into his ear late at night, dressed in the robes of a penitent. It would be revealed, by acclaimed historian Jules Michelet, that an alliance of Prince Conan, Queen Andregot, and Duke Art of Connacht conspired to put the miserable, mad king into an early grave.

And so, King Conan II took the throne.

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