Imagine a king who fights how own battles, what a sight would that be, said Achilles in the movie Troy. Achilles mocked Agamemnon for not fighting his own battles much to the chagrin of his king. Agamemnon in the movie was not a king who took much personal risks, unlike his counterpart from Greek mythology, however, history had plenty of warrior kings who risked their lives as much, if not more than any of their soldiers.
Harold Godwinson was elected king of England by the Anglo-Saxon nobility after the death of Edward the Confessor. His ascension to the throne was not accepted by Duke William of Normandy and Harald Hardrade of Norway, both men claiming the throne for themselves.
Hardrada assisted by Harold Godwinson’s brother Tostyg attacked from the North. He defeated a smaller Saxon army near York and was about to take over the city when he saw the approaching army of Harold Godwinson.
The Saxon king was stationed at the Channel when Hardrada’s invasion began, when he received news he forced marched his troops more than 300 km in less than a week, his lightning march completely surprised Hardrada and Tostyg who had no idea of his arrival.
Harold met his brother and the Norwegian king at the Stamford Bridge. He posed as his envoy and offered his brother his earldom back if he abandoned Hardrada, Tostyg asked what Hardrada would get for his trouble, for which Harold replied 7 feet of English ground or more as he is taller than most men. On their way back to their troops Hardrada asked Tostyg if he knew who the daring men negotiating with them was, Tostyg replied it was Harold Godwinson.
The Norwegians were not expecting a fight so they left their armour behind, the army was not at full strength either as around 3000 men remained behind in the camp.
Despite their disadvantage of numbers and armour Hardrada decided to fight, and although the Norwegians fought bravely they were defeated and slaughtered nearly to the last men.
Garerius was the junior emperor of Diocletian when Sassanid Shah Narseh attacked the eastern provinces of Rome. It is believed that Galerius was initially outnumbered by Narseh, as he realised he could not defeat his enemies he tried to delay them until reinforcements arrived.
His plan worked for a time, but he suffered a defeat at the Battle of Carrhae in 296 or 297 AD. Diocletian arrived with reinforcements, however the appearance of a usurper in Egypt forced him to rush to Egypt to deal with the problem.
This had left Galerius in charge of the rest of the army. Narseh choose to move into Armenia in 298, and set up his winter quarters there. Galerius took the risk of a winter march and set after Narseh. Galerius received help from the local Armenians who supplied him soldiers. Narseh set up his camp near Satala, the Sassanian king probably intended to winter in his fortified camp and move south to more favourable terrain in the spring.
Once he arrived in the area Galerius received intelligence where the Persian camp was located. Galerius and two Armenian nobleman dressed as peasants selling cabbage personally entered the Persian camp to look for weak spots. The plan worked, Galerius spotted weak points from where the Royal encampment of Narseh were vulnerable, with the mission accomplished Galerius and his companions departed.
The Romans attacked the Persian weak spot before dawn, the Persians were completely surprised and overwhelmed by the Romans. A wounded Narseh managed to escape, but his royal treasury, his harem, many of his family members included his Queen of queens were captured by the Romans.
Charles XII was known for leading his troops personally in battle, he was wounded before the Battle of Poltava while he was leading a patrol, he also met his end when he personally went to inspect the siege lines during the Siege of Fredriksten.
One of the most daring feats of his military career was the Battle of Grodno. After he subjugated Poland-Lithuania Charles invaded Russia. Once the ground froze the Swedish king was on the move. In January 1708 he received reports that Tsar Peter the Great was at Grodno, a short distance away from him only. Sensing an opportunity to surprise his enemy, Charles attacked immediately and personally led a vanguard of 800 horsemen against Grodno.
The bridge before Grodno was guarded by around 2000 Russians, Charles charged them with his cavalry and drove them away after a fierce fight. The retreating Russians alerted Peter of the Swedish attack, as it was impossible to know the true numbers of the Swedes Peter and his force retreated from Grodno. Charles arrived their a few hours later.
Once Peter realised the small number of the Swedish vanguard he ordered a counterattack to take back Grodno and possible capture Charles. The Russians attack while most of the Swedes were sleeping, luckily for Charles his the men guarding the main gate stopped the Russians and alerted the rest of their comrades. After a short fight the Swedes repelled the Russians who retreated.
Emperor Justinian II
Justinian II became emperor of the Byzantine Empire at the end of the chaotic 7th century. He was very young at his ascension and thanks to his unpopular policies he alieanated most of his supporters during his reign. He was deposed in 695, to make him unfit for the throne his enemies mutilated him by cutting his nose off, to keep him away from Constantinople he was exiled to the Crimea.
Justinian however was not one to forget, or to forgive what was done to him. He constantly plotted to take his throne back, he asked support from the Khazar khagan, who agreed to help and cemented their alliance by marrying his daughter to Justinian. Envoys from Constantinople however succeeded to convince the Khagan to kill Justinian, his wife warned him and he asked by killing his would be assasins.
His next destination was Bulgar Khan Tervel, on his way to him his ship was caugth in a storm, on his companions asked him to vow to God that once he took his throne back he will show mercy to those who wronged him, to this Justinian replied ”if I spare a single one of them, may God drown me here”.
Tervel agreed to assist him, Justinian marched up to Constantinople with 15,000 soldiers of Tervel. He asked the populace to open the gates, however the gates remained shut. As the formidable walls of Constantinople were impragneble Justinian decided to enter the city through the sewers, once he entered he took power in a coup and hunted down his enemies.
He had the ruling emperors publicly executed in the Hippodrome, as he had promised his companion he had no intention of sparing anyone, the Patriarch of Constantinople who played a part in his deposition and mutilation was captured, blinded and exiled too.
Stefan Lazarevic was the ruler of Serbia in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Serbia became the vassal of the Ottoman Empire during the late 14th century, as a result of their vassal status the Serbs were required to assist the Ottoman Sultan in his wars.
One such occasion was the Battle of Ankara when Bayazid was facing Timur. Timur bribed some of Bayazid’s soldiers before the battle, as the battle started they quickly showed their true colours, consequently one of Bayazid’s flanks collapsed completely and his centre, where the Sultan was, was quickly surrounded. Stefan Lazarevic was leading the other flank of the Ottoman army, he succeeded to break through the encirclement and urged Bayazid to save himself while there is still time, the Sultan declined but entrusted his son to Stefan.
The Serbs succeeded in saving Bayazid's son and escorted him to safety. Byzantine chronicler Laonikos Chalkokyndeles stated that "the Serbs fought as real heroes, each worthy of praise", it is believed that even Timur admired the Serbs, and said that they fought like lions.
One of the reasons why Stefan chose to stick by Bayazid was because he wanted to save his sister Olivera, who was the wife of Bayazid. It is believed that she was captured by Timur, but as a sign of respect for Stefan Timur agreed to let her go back to Serbia without a ransom.
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© 2022 Andrew Szekler