Crusader Kings 3 had always surprised me with its aversion, but I didn’t expect to be operating the most clumsy bloodline in the Sahara. Mary Queen of the Central African oligarchy—who cleverly changed the rules of succession to ensure that our ancestral titles would give priority to women rather than men—was under a splendid reign for decades when one of her ne’er-do-wells The son had confronted him in the ballroom. Did he want promotion? A new plot of land? No, too bad; he just wanted to sleep with his biological mother,
I knew the Middle Ages were lousy with corrupt DNA, but that was a far cry. I rebuked his eccentric successor, who thankfully never raised the issue again.
My queen shook her mortal coil a few years later. She put herself to death, which seemed appropriate given the depravity of her child. I’ll be sad too! The kingdom passed to one of his sons, (no He one), who was hazy and more gullible than his mother, but knew his way around a military barracks. He was also gay; A cardinal sin in this cruel era. Never mind, we sold out with our nostalgic wife, expanding our territory towards the Atlantic Ocean.
Everything was going to go to plan until his cousin came knocking on our door. Yes, that’s right, he wanted to sleep with us too.
,[Crusader Kings 3] Rare sees a group of people, and basically, a lot of them beat up their cousins.”
-Doctor. Eleanor Janega
I was still in the early game of this particular run, and the gene pool was already beyond imagination. It’s a videogame that retells and satirizes the illusory centuries before the Renaissance – a time of wealth slavery, land-broker marriages, and wars of greedy plunder. And yet, there’s a voice in the back of my head that asks, at every ridiculous turn, What is overdoing the contradiction? Was the Middle Ages really as sensual, and murderous, and cruel as the Crusader Kings presents them? Were intimate family members constantly begging for sex?
I wanted answers, so I reached out to Dr. Eleanor Janega, a medieval historian who is also a staunch fan of Crusader Kings 3. As expected, the answer was complicated.
Dr. Eleanor Janega is a medieval history scholar at the London School of Economics who enjoys grand strategy gaming in her spare time. She is also the author of the blog going to medieval,
,[Crusader Kings 3] Rare sees a group of people, and basically, a lot of them beat up their cousins.” says Janega, who graciously took time off from a party she attended to answer my stupid questions. “The thing I always bring up is Eleanor Aquitaine. Her first husband was King Louis VII, and she annulled that marriage because she didn’t like him that much. And how did he cancel it? Because of ‘organisation’ – originally they were second cousins. But then, Eleanor immediately turns around and marries the King of England, who was her first cousin. It was an incredibly small dating pool.”
I usually orient my Crusader Kings campaigns around the minor elites of the world. With the reins of a small Holy Roman Empire principality, I try to free myself from the pope’s thumb, or my lies, or the barbarians at the gates. Janega tells me that they Atmosphere—a small court and an untouched nobility—adultery was more common.
She points to a 12th-century treatise called De Amore that serves as a field guide to the romantic trivialities of high society. In it, the author Andreas Capelanus says that any royal worth his salt can only fall in love with the middle class, the lower nobility and the upper nobility. Ordinary people, on the other hand, were physically incapable of making love “like the beasts of the field.” With that narrow circle, perhaps you can understand why a vassal might take a second look at his aunt.
It’s a Family Affair It’s a Family Affair (Image Credit: Paradox Interactive)
,[The ruling class] Janega continues, “There was like three percent of the population. And London is only like 10,000 people at the time.”
But Janega also tells me that Crusader Kings 3 takes a lot of historical liberties in the name of delivering a fun gameplay experience. If you’re familiar with the series, you’ve undoubtedly suffered a Littlefinger-esque betrayal that relentlessly permeates through the throne room. A distant heir wants to lay a specific claim to the crown, and they are ready to murder you to speed up their ascension. In general, says Janega, the royal lineage was much more ironclad than paradoxical, which turns them out—the emperors weren’t constantly being raised in the ballroom.
“There are very few outright murders in history, but you get complicated plots,” says Janega. “A good example is King John of Bohemia. He always goes to tournaments and wars and he’s never at home. His wife hates him. So he tries to stage a coup where they can put their child on the throne immediately. John finds out, and puts him under house arrest plots, But sometimes it doesn’t involve murder.”
Unlike the Crusader Kings, the elites were not murdering each other on a weekly basis. (image credits: Paradox Interactive)
Of course, when the cloak and dagger’s plans don’t work, you can always raise an army from the peasants and campaign against anyone on your frontier. The combat in Crusader Kings 3 is notoriously structured with all kinds of decent railings; You need a suitable casus belli, Latin for “cause of war” and also enough reputation within the upper echelons of medieval movers and shakers attack on A fought barony in the Italian Highlands. I was curious to know if this is reflected in the global record as well. Did the Duke and Duchess of Antiquity really need to get all kinds of red tape before assembling the pieces?
If you want to invade Pomerania? Go straight ahead
-Doctor. Eleanor Janega
“It depends on how dick they were. In France, casus belli laws are a huge deal. They have a big state with a ton of vassals, so they’re always checking how chivalry works.” Because everything is down to manners. If you upset that balance, things can get tricky,” says Janega. “But it’s less so in the middle places. Milan is a constant football. The French are taking over, then the Holy Roman Empire, and they don’t care about the casus belli at all. It varies.
“But it’s certainly true, if you’re the Holy Roman Empire, you’re not going to invade Bohemia. They’ve got a lot of power and they’re very wealthy. But if you want to invade Pomerania? OK? Go ahead. There’s side finds all the time.”
Overall, Janega believes Crusader Kings 3 does a fine job of emulating the outlines of a medieval melodrama. But there is one last elephant in the room. Historical scholarship has focused less on the throne room in recent years as Janega first took up; The nobility is an extraordinarily small world, and it paints an extremely non-representative picture of what it really felt like to live in the Middle Ages.
Yes, the world is your oyster, but make sure you create a good cause before attacking your next door neighbors. (image credits: Paradox Interactive)
The paradox, of course, pays no attention to farmers and shepherds. Crusader Kings is an exceptionally vivid playback of monarchical politics, but the focus of its intrigue is entirely on the palace. So perhaps there’s room for a game that turns the genre on its head, with a story centered under the boot of their oppressors.
“On the one hand I love when there is any kind of medieval entertainment in the world, but it would be nice if someone made an RPG about peasant rebellions. Crusader Kings has peasant rebellions all the time, but why can’t you farmers Play as?” Will end “Like, how do you build alliances with other farmers? How do you get campaigners on your side? I think it’s going to be incredibly fun.”
I wholeheartedly agree. As much as I enjoy the sensual humiliation of my fellow aristocrats, there has never been a better time for a medieval saga from the point of view of the downtrodden. Paradox, in case you’re reading this, let’s shed light on the good, god-fearing people who have been contracted by all these phopish sickles beneath the royal crest. It’s well and good to play as Henry VII, but you know what’s better? He beheaded and dragged the body through the streets.