The Tenth of the After Action Reports (AAR) following my direction of the Irish Empire, tracing the dynasty of the Briain dynasty through the Middle Ages. The previous AARs can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9.
This AAR begins from where we left off in the previous first half of the reign of the now Empress Brigid of the Irish Empire. Now, we can truly talk about Ireland being a real Empire, as the Alba Empire now has reunited Britannia under the Irish banner of House Briann. However, there are still powerful adversaries to the East on the European mainland. France is starting to reform as a powerful kingdom in it's own right after the meddling and murdering of previous Irish kings... and the Holy Roman Empire remains a dominant force in the Catholic world, a slumbering giant that will need to carefully dealt with.
However, the Catholic Pope and his minions have been recently dealt a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Cathar faithful, led by the Irish and the High Queen Brigid, and the world has been shown that the Catholic Crusades are no longer the terrifying prospects of religious subjugation that they used to be. The Pope is human... and can be defeated.
Unlike many leaders of the medieval world, Empress Brigid has found a loving and devoted partner. The main break of the Cathar with the Catholic world is the fact that the Cathars hold woman and men to be equal in ability and thus also in the ability to lead kingdoms and empires. Empress Brigid IS the leader of the Cathar world, and the Empire of Alba, and her Emperor is just one of many doting servants!
When Empress Brigid first ascended to throne, she was best known as an aspiring scholar and not as a powerful ruler and unifier of Alba. However, despite the demands of running an Empire, the Empress has made time for her true calling. As her power and reach have grown, so have her ambitions for her experiments. After translating many ancient texts, she starts to try her hand at the arcane art of alchemy... an attempt to transmute lead into gold.
Meanwhile, closer to home, the Emperor starts to turn up the dial on the love life. The devotion that he feels for the Empress is impressive, and would be welcomed by anyone... however, it does also mean that there is a potential weakness that enemies of the realm might seek to explore. As a ruler of an Empire, it can be dangerous to be too attached to any single person... even if they are a potential soulmate.
Meanwhile, the alchemical studies progress apace... the experiments have reached a critical juncture. Will this be the long sought after secret of riches and immortal life... or a brutal and humiliating learning experience?
Despite Empress Brigid's best efforts to stay aloof to protect her beloved husband and Emperor, the heat of a narrowly avoided assassination attempt sweeps aside her emotional defences, and the Emperor and Empress realise that they are meant to be soulmates in this otherwise mortal world. Their love will be told in the songs of bards and tales of poets... the star-crossed lovers that reunited the Alba Empire.
Meanwhile, the alchemical experiments do not yield an immediate breakthrough. The results are promising, but not the mythical process that was described by the ancients. Still, failure is just a learning experience for a true scholar!
The heir to the throne is an important role, especially for an emerging empire like Alba. So, it is with some disappointment that the current heir, Princess Finneacht has been caught in a dishonourable liaison with a lowly knight of the Court. Personally, Empress Brigid doesn't really mind... people are free to find love wherever it exists for them. She has her own true love close at hand, and is not one to deny that same prize to others... especially her offspring.
However, it is likely that the Alban court and the realms enemies could use this to try and gain leverage over the Empress... or her heir.
Under the enlightened guidance of Empress Brigid, the scholarly arts and sciences are seeing a huge surge in popularity. The people see what sort of riches and power flow from knowledge and study, and it is no surprise that a second University is instituted in the county of Cambridge.
The wisdom and intellect of the Empress is known throughout the European world, and her counsel and advice is sought by all who seek to further the advancement of the arts and sciences. It truly is a Golden Age of Enlightenment and Knowledge that the Albans are introducing to the European world.
The power and riches of the Alban empire are not without their own little perils though. Empress Brigid has begun to be widely famed for her love of food and drink, with countless invitations to banquets and feats. So much that it starts to lead to bouts of obesity and threats to her health from overindulging. This will become a life-long struggle to balance her love of festivities and her own health and well-being!
Meanwhile, rare gifts continue to make their way to the Alban Empress as many in the Christian world seek to curry favour with the new emerging Empire. Rare animals and artworks are offerred by those who look to have the Alban Queen on their side in their power struggles. The Alban Empire is currently unparalleled in terms of wealth, technology and military might. It isn't a superpower, as a coalition of couple of strong kingdoms could still match it... and the Holy Roman Empire could also smash the Empire, but it is still seen as a jewel in the sea that is a valuable ally for any ambitious noble.
Paradise on Earth can not last forever though... humans are all too mortal, even Emperors and Empresses. Empress Brigid's eternal soulmate passes away leaving her alone in the world... at the height of her renown and power, but isolated and miserable.
However, appearances must be kept up. A new Emperor to help govern the Alban Empire. The new Emperor is marrying way above his station, but he was chosen in order to have a pliable partner... and as a breeding stock. He brings the trait of Comeliness and Beauty to the Briann line, which will combine very nicely with the Intellectual trait of the Empress. Their children could likely be possessed of the devastating combination of being Beautiful AND Intelligent!
However, the loss of a soulmate has struck quite deeply at the emotional state of the Empress. She starts reading and researching books on the occult... eventually convincing herself to begin exploring the mystical and forbidden arts in the hopes of finding a different form of enlightenment that will challenge her scholarly intellect.
The experiments are conducted in secret... but the Court is always alert to rumours. Those rumours suggest that the Empress locks herself away in the dead of night, and that worrying noises and lights have started to be seen in the castle. Her subjects and vassals are hoping that their Empress is not starting to dabble in infernal arts that will bring the Empire to ruin. They do start to worry for the personal safety of their beloved Empress...
... and the Empress starts to obsess about the mystical experiments, leaving her to ignore her own safety in the single minded desire to recapture the connection that she had originally discovered in her initial experimentation. Is it possible that the loss of her soulmate has started her along the path to delusion and madness?
Meanwhile, her new husband is proving to be a whinging little brat... definitely not a worthy replacement for the love of her life. Still, he is useful for the seed that he provides for the Briann line but his petulant impulses must be denied... he is only a trophy and nothing more, and he needs to be put in his place to understand that.
Across the Western European world, more and more nobles and commoners are starting to flock to the Cathar faith due to their disillusionment with the Catholics. Many of the conversions are voluntary... however, there are others that need to be encouraged by the Empress, in order to have better relations with her underlings and vassals.
After so many centuries of protracted war and conflict, the Catholic Danelaw have been mostly pushed out of the Isles. However, there are a few remaining counties, and more importantly a largish Scandinavian and Eastern European mass from which they now make their main base. The long-running feud comes to a fairly bloodless and anti-climatic end, as Empress Brigid usurps the Danelaw line and replaces it diplomatically with the Briann line. Thus, the entire Danelaw kingdom now belongs to the Irish with a simple stroke of the pen. The old Danelaw line are too weak to contest the claim, and they no longer have any friends in the European mainland after their last disastrous attempt to reclaim their heritage lands by Crusade.
... and with the highly practical measure of usurping the old Danelaw claim, the Danelaw now find themselves occupying rightful Irish de Jure lands. Lands that are immediately claimed by war, which is quickly resolved in the Alban favour. The Danelaw are finally crushed and will be forgotten by time.
The defeat of the Alban nemesis has done nothing to improve the outlook of our Empress Brigid... she still finds herself in the depression that enveloped her after the death of her soulmate.
It is strange, that at the height of her power and influence, she is broken on a personal level. Nothing matters anymore... the conquests of kingdoms and the expansion of the Alban empire have no meaning anymore.
Even the elevation of the Brainn dynasty to the highest levels of service to the Cathar faith do not awaken her from her melancholy. Since the beginning of the Cathar faith of preaching the equality of sexes, the Brainn dynasty and Irish throne have been it's most fervent supporters. Initially, it was a rebellion against the Catholic imposition of power, but later, it became a way of empowering and utilising the full might of the population.
Empress Brigid of Alba adds the title of Paragon to her many other titles, including Scholar and Unifier of Britannia. As long as the Cathar faith stands strong, she will be remembered as one of it's most faithful and powerful defenders.
Britannia is also reclaimed as a single entitiy... a feat that hasn't been realised since the legendary days of King Arthur.
The green of the Irish kingdom, is now replaced by the Red of the Alban empire. The Isles are formally reunited under the single banner, and the rest of Europe shudder at the Teutonic shift in power. Will the Albans be a counterweight to the Catholic order, or will it simply replace a tyranny with a new one?
... but titles still mean nothing. Her mind is breaking and her grief is overwhelming... she takes to writing to seek solace in her thoughts. Hoping that the act of setting out her grief in writing will take away the sting... these journals will be treasured and studied by historians and scholars long after her passing.
Empress Brigid has long been known for her devotion to rationality, enlightenment and the scientific arts... however, her more recent dabbling into the occult and her current mental state have started to manifest itself in strange dreams and omens. Her vassals are starting to wonder if her grip on reality is strong... or if there truly is a break in the veil that separates the demonic world from ours.
... and she grows ever more reclusive. Seeking less counsel with her advisors and Councillors... locking herself in her room for days and weeks at a time. The Alban Empire continues regardless of the incapacity of the Empress, the bureaucracy knows how to run things smoothly... as long as the Court and Nobles stop their scheming.
Sadly, suitors still write to the Empress Brigid with their frankly embarassing prose and attempts at flattery. She has a trophy husband and breeding stock already... and she will never find her soulmate in this life again.
Interestingly enough, the only thing that snaps the Empress out of her melancholic stupour is the Catholic Pope attempting another Crusade for the now defunct Danelaw Kingdom. The last Crusade ended terribly for the Catholic, as their armies were forced time and after time back into the Channel by the Cathars and Irish. The end result of the last Crusade was the absoption of the Danelaw into the Alban Empire and the reunification of Britannia under the Irish banner.
It is hard to see how the outcome will be different this time, as the Albans and Cathar are stronger than before... and the Catholic world is weaker and more fractured, with the faith in the Pope growing lesser with each defeat. The same overarching strategy plays out as beofre. The Alban Cathar occupy most of the Catholic Crusade armies in their futile attempts to make landfall on the Isles, and they are repelled time after time... meanwhile, the Scandianvian Cathar make inroads into the Catholic homelands...
... for an entirely predictable result. The Catholic Pope is humiliated for the second time in the span of a few decades. The Catholic armies are defeated and broken at the hands of the Albans and Cathar faithful.
It is time for retribution and a strategic counterstrike into the Cathloic world. With the Catholics in disarray, it is time to push a kingdom-wide claim by one of the guests of the Court on the Kingdom of France. The ENTIRE existing Kingdom of France!
The conquest is surprisingly quick, as the French armies were already devastated by the previous Crusade. Landfall was quickly made, and the most populous and rich counties of France were subjugated in short order. A new Queen was imposed on France, one that served as a vassal to the Empire of Alba, the first large Kingdom to join the realm.
Of course, with such a large realm, there is the ongoing threat of rebellion if too much power concentrates. So, the feudal contract with the new Queen of France was immediately amended to Forced Partition upon succession... ensuring that power would be re-fractured with each generation.
Meanwhile, learning is still in vogue... as the Empress is shaken out of her melancholy by the new conquests and the defeat of the Crusuaders. Universities need to be founded, she is gripped by a new fervor to better the lot of all within her emerging Empire. This will be her purpose in life, until it is time to reunite with her loved one.
... spew.... the endless love letters are getting worse and more humiliating...
The greatest strategic alliance of the age was forged with an underage bridal proposal. This would link the great Byzantine Empire in the East with the emerging Alban Empire in the West. The Catholics are now cowering... even the great Holy Roman Empire will think twice before attacking this joint alliance.
Alas, tragedy strikes as the heir to the throne, the previously disgraced Princess Finneach passes away before her time. Empress Brigid has lived to an incredible age already, so it isn't a huge surprise that she would outlive some of her potential heirs and kin.... but to outlive the one that has been groomed to take over?
... it is too much, and Empress Brigid feels it is time to leave this world. She has done much for the Alban Empire, Irish culture and the Briann dynasty. But it is time to rejoin her beloved.
She leaves this world, with the Alban empire being the dominant Western European power. The Alban Empire now has several kingdoms under it's umbrella, with the Queen of France been the most powerful vassal state. The alliance with the Byzantine Empire will protect the succession, it will be a difficult succession as there will be many interests at play... all hoping to carve out some independence from the newly emerging Empire.
Empress Brigid came to the throne as an underdog, no one expected a quiet studious scholar to be the powerful unifer of Britannia, and first Empress of Alba. She lived to the incredible age of 85, and will be succeeded by her grand-daughter, the Empress Rachel. The new Empress will face some difficult times, as the Empire was previously held together by the sheer force of power of her grandmother... Empress Rachel will have to carve out her position and authority among the newly empowered nobles, vassals and Court.
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