Part 69: A Lull in the WarChapter 5 - A Lull in the War - July 1824 to September 1826
Though it would proceed largely-unnoticed at the time, the Majlis Assembly of 1824 would quickly enter history as one of the most important meetings to ever take place in Europe. Not only was the Iberian slave trade abolished and the unification of al-Andalus proclaimed, but the Majlis al-Shura also charged the Grand Vizier with drafting a constitution for their new nation - a foreign concept, in a world dominated by the absolutist Almoravid dynasty.
The staggering weight of this decision cannot be underestimated. Constitutionalism had only ever been attempted once before, when the Jizrunid dynasty had still ruled the peninsula, and that experiment had ended in disastrous civil war and global humiliation. From that moment onwards, constitutionalism was forever undermined in Europe, never to make a recovery.
Or so it was thought. Raed al-Zulfiqar, a minor noble whod quickly risen through the ranks of the army before being declared Grand Vizier, was determined to guide Iberia towards republicanism, and this was the first step down that road. So Raed, aided by his party of fervent loyalists, began the long process of penning the Andalusi Constitution, one democratic enough to please the masses, but conservative enough to pass through the Majlis - no easy task, needless to say.
There was little time to devote to the endeavour just then, however. Iberia was still caught at the crossroads of war, one raging between Emperor Tirruni and Sultan Yahya Almoravid, and Zulfiqar was visibly struggling under the weight of commanding the army, organising recruitment drives, appeasing the nobility, parcelling out the national budget and meeting with his advisors.
The Grand Vizier wast a young man anymore, and his supporters feared that he would drop dead from sheer stress one of these days.
Zulfiqars troubles were only compounded when a host of Berber emissaries arrived at Qadis, carrying a flag of truce and requesting a meeting. The Almoravid Sultan was apparently hoping to attract the revived al-Andalus to his side in the war, promising rich rewards in slaves, gold and land in return for betraying Tirruni.
The Moroccan-Andalusi hatred ran deeper than petty promises, however, and the nobles of the Majlis resoundingly voted against the motion. They were with Tirruni till the end.
As the Berber diplomats began their journey back to Marrakesh, they carried word of the abolished slave trade with them, further angering Sultan Yahya upon their return. Indeed, the news quickly spread all across Europe, and Queen-Regent Aliç of France was the first to congratulate the Grand Vizier on his success.
Hoping to strengthen his ties with the French, Zulfiqar was quick to reply, sending diplomats laden with gifts to the French court.
Any question of an Andalusi-French alliance was out of the question, however, not least because the latter still remembered hordes of Muslims swarming across Aquitaine and brutally sacking Paris. It would take much more than pretty trinkets to win the French, it would seem.
And anyways, they were still embroiled in their war against the Kingdom of Hannover, one that didnt seem to be going all too well.
After the war had bogged down into a stalemate in its early months, the Germans began a series of reforms that simplified their military administration and streamlined the command structure, drastic and far-reaching actions that nonetheless resulted in the war shifting in their favour early in 1824.
Quickly capturing large parts of the Rhine Confederacy, the Hanoverian army pushed into France proper just as summer began. Determined to break the German advance, the French army met them at Luxembourg, with thousands clashing in heated battle just miles away from the city. Unfortunately for the French, this would not be their day.
The Disaster at Luxembourg, it would later be called, with tens of thousands of casualties littering the field before dusk. The battle lasted an entire day, but the French had lost it within an hour, forced to retreat in disarray as the Germans harried and ravaged at their flanks.
Forced to abandon Luxembourg Fortress and fall back, the French army was a shell of its former self, too weak in numbers to launch any counterattacks. Still, the Queen-Regent refused to treat with the Hanoverians, instead commanding her generals to raise more men, win new allies, alter their strategy - anything, but there would be no surrender.
And by the time the Hanoverians captured Luxembourg and began their march on Paris, the French were ready, using small and mobile contingents to ransack German supply trains, harass at their columns, and even launch surprising raids on their vanguard. By winter that year, the Hanoverian army would be drawn to a standstill, its soldiers starving and mutinous.
Further east, meanwhile, the cold war simmering between Smolensk and Novgorod threatened to explode into war when the latter launched an undeclared invasion of Pskov, with thousands of Scandinavian-Russian soldiers surging into the Baltic principality.
Tsarina Dobroslava of Smolensk, evidently not confident enough to intervene militarily against her rival, opted to simply subsidise the prince of Pskov.
No amount of money can raise dead men, however, with the Pskovian army crushed and shattered within mere weeks, and the capital of the principality captured a few days later. Escorted to the royal palaces in Finland, the prince was forced to swear fealty to Tsar Vasiliy, effectively annexing his lands to Novgorod.
The royal council in Smolensk furiously protested the peace treaty, but nothing could be done without escalating it into open war. In retaliation, Tsarina Dobroslava instead declared her own war of expansion, sending her troops streaming into the Principality of Cherson.
All of eastern Europe would have to be carved between the two empires before they met on the field of battle once more, it would seem.
To their south, on the other hand, war had become a way of life. After brutally suppressing a wave of ethnic rebellions, the Dictator of Revolutionary Serbia declared war on the Vakhtani Caliphate, desperate to unite his fragile republic behind a common cause. And as thousands of revolutionaries lay siege to Constantinople, the dictator vowed to see the Caliph toppled, tried and executed before the end of the year.
This quickly proved a foolish decision, however, as the battle-hardened Armenian troops easily repelled the Balkan forces besieging Constantinople. And as if that werent enough, they soon crossed the Aegean in an invasion of their own, with thousands of Muslim soldiers looting and pillaging their way across Thrace before too long.
Shifting back to the Almoravid-Tirruni War, the Moroccans landed another army at Monemvasia late in 1824, intent on recapturing the Peloponnese and punishing the Greeks for re-entering the war. It didnt take much to shatter the peasant army, with the Berbers laying siege to the regional capital before the new year.
Across the Adriatic, meanwhile, Tirruni fortunes suffered a series of devastating reversals. Personally led Emir Ibrahim Jizrunid, a small Palermo force had managed to besiege and capture the holy city of Rome, aided by a heavy Moroccan blockade. Echoing the glory days of his dynasty, Ibrahim had unleashed his forces on the city, which was heavily plundered and ransacked over the course of two long days.
News of the sacking provoked uproar all across Europe, with Tirruni immediately sending an army to Italy, but it didnt hold the attention of Grand Vizier Zulfiqar for long.
With the peninsula finally captured and secured by allied forces, a lull in the Iberian war had begun, with both the Andalusi and the Moroccans recovering their losses and planning for future offensives. Grand Vizier Raed retired to Qadis to begin drawing up new strategies and campaigns, leaving the army under the command of sheikh Fadhil al-Farihi, an influential voice in the Majlis and accomplished commander in his own right.
Over the next few days, Zulfiqar and the highest-ranking nobles of the Majlis began planning for the next stage of the war. They all knew that the revolutionary conflict would not end until the Almoravids were decisively beaten, but such a task was daunting and, many feared, downright impossible. After all, Sultan Yahya ruled over the largest empire in the world, his domains stretching from Gharbia to Indonesia, with the pearl in his already-glittering crown being the vast and rich subcontinent of India.
As far as the Grand Vizier was concerned, however, the key to the Almoravid downfall lay just across the straits of Gibraltar.
Harking back to the days of Rome and Carthage, Zulfiqar began sketching out an ambitious invasion of Africa itself. If he could strike hard in a sudden offensive across Morocco-Proper, assault and capture Marrakesh, then he was confident that the Almoravid Empire would crack. The Sultan was not as all-powerful as he might appear - the Berber princes were ambitious and powerhungry, there were already independence movements bubbling all across the new world, and the Indian princes were surely chafing under the absolutist rule of an emperor half a world away.
It would all come toppling down, Zulfiqar was sure, he just needed to get across the straits.
Even that would not be easy, however, not when the worlds most powerful navy patrolled the seas. The Majlisi Fleet, by comparison, consisted of just fifteen warships, accompanied by two transport vessels.
Lesser men might falter when faced with such staggering odds, but Zulfiqar had not reached his lofty heights by doubting himself. So once he had the Majlisi nobles convinced, the Grand Vizier began meeting with representatives of Tirruni, hoping to attract funding for his endeavour - he would need money, and lots of it, if al-Andalus was ever going to have a navy capable of challenging the Almoravid Fleet.
After weeks of negotiation between the two parties, however, the Emperor decided to grant the Majlis a paltry subsidy, barely sufficient to keep their existing ships afloat.
This was a difficult blow to bear, made only worse when it was announced that Greece, Greece - a tiny nation with no prospects at all - would be given larger subsidies than al-Andalus. Leaving many experts befuddled, some began to fear that Tirruni was planning an invasion to fully secure Iberia, whilst others claimed that the Emperor simply had no confidence in defeating the Almoravids by sea, and others still that it was done out of sheer spite.
Whatever the case, cracks were already beginning to weaken the Andalusi-Tirruni alliance.
The Grand Vizier, faced with little choice, was thus forced to take out extortionate loans from foreign banks. With the final sum rising into the thousands, it was clear that these loans were largely one-sided, but Zulfiqar was confident that they would easily be paid off once Marrakesh was plundered.
With the funds finally in hand, Zulfiqar and his admirals began the long process of expanding their navy. The ambitious project was headed by Grand Admiral Sayf al-Talasi, and before long, the enthusiastic commander had thousands of labourers contracted, tens of thousands of trees felled, dozens of vessel framings set up, obsolete cannons modernised and re-fitted, sparing no coin in the effort.
Only a handful of Iberian harbours - including Qadis, Lishbuna, and Burtuqal - were large enough to construct actual warships, so the smaller ports and docks were instead tasked with erecting more transport vessels.
The transports were very lightly armed, most were simply massive, broad barges whose sole purpose was to carry soldiers. Requiring minimal resources and skill, it didnt take too long to construct them, with the new vessels gathering at the dockyards of Jabal Tariq.
With all the costs going into the project, Admiral Sayf was determined to see his new warships comfortably stand their own against Moroccan vessels, so he was quick to adopt a broad expanse of Berber naval schemes and blueprints. And with the Grand Viziers blessing, he also began inviting retired admirals, foreign shipbuilders and renowned architects to assist in the effort, spending lavishly to attract them to Qadis.
As a flurry of activity spread through Iberias harbours, another Tirruni campaign came to a successful end in Italy. Having easily recaptured Rome, a joint Italian-Occitan-Iberian force chased the smaller Jizrunid army all the back to Messina, only to be denied their crossing onto the island by another Moroccan blockade.
In the eastern Mediterranean, meanwhile, the only other power with a notable fleet - Crusader Egypt - had managed to land an expeditionary force on Crete. The towns and villages dotting the island were quickly captured, with the capital at Candia brought under siege soon after.
The Berbers were quick to retaliate, dispatching a much larger force to Cyrenaica, where it assaulted and quickly captured the fortress of Darnah. Once the coasts were secured, the Moroccans launched their second invasion of Egypt, determined to see this one end in success.
At the same time, the Peloponnese was brought back under Almoravid authority, with large parts of the countryside ravaged by the Berbers. As a small Egyptian fleet escorted the remnants of the Greek army from the mainland, the 7000-strong Berber force lay siege to Athens, the once-mighty ruined by countless sackings in recent years.
To the immediate north, the Serbian-Vakhtani war had turned decisively against the aggressors, with crisis quickly overwhelming the capital as Muslim armies pushed deeper into the Balkans. Two revolutionary armies had already been crushed, so the Consul was forced to exact a heavy tax on thousands of burghers and peasants alike, using the fresh income to raise another army.
And to the relief of the Serbs, this proved enough to shift the odds again, with the Armenian army forced to withdraw to Asia Minor. Within weeks, another invasion was launched, with the revolutionary army besieging the strategic fortress of Smyrna on the Aegean coast.
As ever, unfortunately, it wasnt long before the tide turned against them once more. It had begun with the Bulgarian Uprising - mourning the loss of their youngest, tired of the endless discrimination, and suffering under the heavy taxes, another wave of rebellions broke out all across Bulgaria. This time banding into proper armies, the revolts succeeding in overthrowing their regional governors and defeating any relief forces sent against them, with their leaders proclaiming the end of Serbian tyranny.
Before long, half of the Balkans had followed suit, with the once-powerful Revolutionary Republic descending into civil war.
Back in Iberia, meanwhile, a handful of frigates and second-rate warships were just being launched. Though they couldnt match a first-rate ship-of-the-line in open battle, they were useful for missions further afield and beyond friendly harbours, usually considered too dangerous for the costly first-rates.
It would take at least another year for the first ship-of-the-lines to complete construction, but already, it was becoming clear that the Grand Vizier had vastly underestimated the costs of the project. Even without his first-rate warships, the upkeep of the frigates and second-rates were enough to shift Andalusias income into the red - not a good sign at all.
It was far too late to abandon the constructions now, however, with Zulfiqar urging his doubtful supporters and jeering rivals to persevere.
In case you missed it - yeah, Tirruni decided to lower our subsidies again, this time to just 9/month, for whatever reason.
In an effort to ease the heavy costs and coax the income back into the black, Zulfiqar and his party managed to force a series of acts through the Majlis al-Shura, permitting them to levy a new income tax on the populace of all major Andalusi cities.
Working under orders from the Grand Vizier, new loan contracts were also negotiated with bankers operating in Qadis, making it far less costly to take out and extend loans domestically than with foreign banks.
Zulfiqars studious efforts soon paid off as the economy stabilised, though it began to keel into the red again as the navy continued its expansion, with more frigates and second-rates being launched into Qadisi waters with every passing day.
Such an ambitious project couldnt be concealed forever, of course, with rumours leaking out of Qadis and trickling towards the south. By the end of 1825, a dozen warships had joined the Berber blockade, determined to crush any Andalusi attempts to seize control of the straits.
And it didnt end there, with even more ships dedicated to blockading the western coast of Iberia, especially the massive harbours of Lishbuna, where the small fleet had steadily grown as more and more newly-constructed warships gathered there.
On the mainland, meanwhile, Sheikh Fadhil al-Farihi had been quietly improving the state of the Majlisi Guard. New recruits were enlisted to fill up empty ranks, green brigades were trained by the more experienced troops, a new weapons manufactory had been constructed to better arm the soldiery, and all done without the knowledge of the Grand Vizier.
With governance being restored to them, the nobles were beginning to take the initiative once more.
News soon arrived from Paris, with the diplomats proclaiming the ascendance of a new queen. In a lavish, opulent ceremony later dubbed the Coronation of the Century, young Julianna Roman was crowned Queen of France and England after fifteen years of regency. Having been under the influence of her mother ever since childhood, many feared that Queen-Mother Aliç would continue to rule through Julianna, her grasp on the kingdom unyielding.
The little girl, however, had grown into a headstrong and independent young woman. Abandoning the despotic rule of her mother and enraptured by the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment, Queen Julianna immediately set into motion a sequence of events that, just a year later, would culminate in the proclamation of French Constitutionalism. Closely modelled on the Majlis-al-Shura, the new parliament was largely dominated by the French, but with the more influential voices in England also offered seats in the assembly.
At the same time, Julianna and her advisors began making plans to strengthen the frontiers of her kingdom. Hoping to secure the unwavering loyalty of her Rhineland vassals, the Queen arranged a marriage to the Prince of Frankfurt, the dominating noble in the Confederation.
Having come into her throne so confidently and decisively, it wasnt long before the queen began sending waves across Europe, with emissaries and observers quickly making their way to Paris. A sour note was added in the spring of 1826, however, when the High King of Ireland-Scotland declared war.
Julianna knew little of the ways of war, but even she knew that being caught in a two-front conflict was no good thing. So she dispatched diplomats to seek peace terms with Hannover, and after a few weeks of negotiation, a white peace was agreed upon. The war had been costly for both nations, but without penetrating France proper, the Germans would never be able to reclaim the Rhine.
In eastern Europe, meanwhile, another war came to an end with the Treaty of Novorossysk. Having been decisively defeated, Cherson was forced to cede the rest of its Romanian territories to Smolensk, which was now pressing deep into the Balkans.
The Principality of Cherson, which had boasted an empire stretching from the Danube to the Caucasus just ten years ago, had abruptly and remarkably been carved apart by its neighbours, leaving it little more than a rump state.
Tsarina Dobroslavas appetite for war, however, had evidently not yet been sated. Claiming that a Bulgarian rebel force had crossed into its territory, Smolensk declared war on Revolutionary Serbia in April, marching into Bulgaria under the pretence of quashing the revolutionary chaos.
The tsarinas aggressive policies would soon be cut short, however. Mere weeks after crossing into Bulgaria, Smolenskian troops were ordered to withdraw and march north with all haste, to deal with the far greater threat - Novgorod. The War for Russian Leadership, with its short interlude abruptly ended, was back on.
Back to the west, meanwhile, Tirruni had wintered at his army headquarters in Mantua for the past two years. Having struggled to penetrate the Alps, the summer offensive of 1826 finally succeeded in breaking the Bavarian army defending them, with Tirrunis troops storming towards München by May.
Desperate to keep his throne and avoid a sacking, the Archduke quickly reached out to Tirruni, offering to concede to all demands in return for an immediate withdrawal. The Emperor did just that, all too happy to avoid another drawn-out siege, and annexed a rich strip of northern Italy thatd been ruled by the German Archduchy for centuries.
At the same time, an entire sea away, another treaty was being signed and stamped. Having been defeated for the second time, the Greek King was not only forced to recognise Almoravid possessions in the Peloponnese, but also abdicate his throne to his son and go into exile. Humiliating terms, likely to only further incite the Greek populace.
Almoravid strength of arms could not be denied, however, as King Apanoub XIII was learning further south. Despite defeating the Egyptian army at Tubruq, the Berbers were constantly harried and attacked throughout their march eastward, with the Crusaders hoping to force their campaign to an early end.
Acting on the direct command of their Sultan, the Berber army resolutely pushed onwards and towards Alexandria, finally besieging Alexandria late in May. The Moroccan generals quickly realised that 20,000 soldiers wouldnt be enough to penetrate its fortifications, however, and sent messengers requesting urgent reinforcements.
Determined to knock Egypt out of the war, another army arrived at Alexandria within the month, doubling the number of besiegers and allowing them to finally blockade the great city, both on sea and land.
The capitulation of Egypt would be very bad news for its allies, with the eastern power sucking up a lot of Moroccan resources. News of the Siege of Alexandria thus encouraged Grand Vizier Zulfiqar to work even harder, with every waking hour now spent implementing new programs to train sailors, calculating the costs of mast and rigging purchases, installing more heavy cannons on existing ships. Raed often met with his admirals to discuss the training of green sailors, knowing full well that all his efforts would be for naught if his crewmen failed him.
And under the heavy summer sun of 1826, after almost three years of meticulous planning, startling costs and infuriating setbacks, first-rate ship-of-the-lines finally began patrolling the coasts.
Amongst the last ships to complete construction was Fakhr-Qadis, the Pride of Qadis. One of the most expensive warships to ever be commissioned, the Pride of Qadis was a three-masted three-decked sailing ship that boasted over a hundred guns, two hundred feet in length and crewed by a thousand sailors. Serving as the flagship of the newly-named Andalusi Navy, Fakhr-Qadis left the harbours of Qadis in August, ready to take the fight to the Berbers.
Back in Qurtubah, meanwhile, Sheikh Fadhil had also completed his expansion efforts. The Majlisi Guard now stood at 90,000-strong, with the new recruits almost-solely used to fill up empty ranks. Acting on orders from the Grand Vizier, the sheikh marched the Guard south to Sevilla, where it was divided into two armies, as each would have to be separately ferried across the straits.
Even better, the conquest of the Mahdiyyah and the recent lull in the war had allowed manpower reserves to partially recover, with almost twenty thousand youngsters now available for enlistment. Zulfiqar held off on any new recruitments for now, though - if his plan went smoothly, then the war would be over before the end of the year.
September of 1826 brought bad news from the east, however, as the nigh-impregnable city of Alexandria fell to the Almoravids. The Berber commander prevented his forces from sacking the city, though he personally carted off hundreds of historical artefacts and treasures, likely for display in Marrakesh.
King Apanoub, whod fled to Cairo just before the siege began, quickly sent diplomats to secure terms for peace. It didnt take long to get an answer, with the Almoravid Sultan demanding nothing less than exit from the war, heavy indemnities, and the relinquishment of Cyrenaica, where an independent principality would be set up. The Egyptian king, his spirit finally broken, agreed to all the demands.
Zulfiqar acted quickly upon receiving the terrible news. He knew that Moroccan warships and soldiers previously tied down in the East were on their way, and he wouldnt be able to face the full might of the Almoravid Navy alone, not by a long shot.
So the order was given, and the powerful, newly-built Andalusi Navy took to the seas for the first time.
War is rarely ever so simple, however, and more troubling news arrived just days later. Launching a sudden invasion of their own, the Moroccans had landed a massive 100,000-strong army off the coast of Qartayannat, quickly assaulting the fortress and massacring its garrison.
And just like that, the Andalusi were suddenly on the defensive again, with the winds of war beginning to shift once more.