Brief History of the Knights of the Hart, Part 1 - Origin and Founding
Date: Sat, May 25, 2002
Topic: History

Part One in this series explores the geopolitical threats facing the Marklands for the first century of their independence (CY 256 - 356).

The early history of the Knights of the Hart as a secret cadre of informants to the King of Furyondy is detailed.

Author: Kirt

A Brief History of the Knights of the Hart

by Kirt. Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.


Around CY 250, Stinvri, Viceroy of the Ferrond, declared his independence and wrested control of the Marklands from the Great Kingdom. In CY 256 he passed control of the region to his son, crowned as King Thrommel I (1). At the time, the survival of the independent state seemed unlikely. Removed from the Aerdian Empire by fiat, the local lords vied for power and fought over resources and borders. The Raoin Church and her allied nobles pressed for the independence of the Voll. The easternmost lands (the Lands of the Shield) were largely controlled by the remnants of Aerdian Army Commanders and military veterans who had been granted small fiefs as pensions. Their loyalty to the new state was uncertain, and they could easily have rejoined the Great Kingdom. More than a century of nomad raids had reduced the northern lands (or Northern Reaches) to a ragtag collection of petty holdings run by warlords. They considered the change in government as merely the replacement of one distant figurehead for another, with little effect on their daily struggle for existence. The Viceroyalty had laid claim to the entire Vesve, but in truth the Aerdi had never mapped its full extent. The Lord of the Elves had acknowledged the suzerainty of the Viceroy, but had paid little tribute.

King Thrommel was practical enough to know that he had to free the outer dependencies to leave himself the core of a viable kingdom. In truth he was no imperialist, and actually believed in freedom and self-determination for each of these disparate peoples. But Thrommel was also wise enough to realize that if they were granted their freedom too quickly, the dependencies would fall. Unless they had strong and cohesive governments themselves, they would easily be overcome by nomad, Baklunish, or humanoid invasions, or else reabsorbed into the seething Aerdy Empire. Thrommel spent his reign resolving local disputes and consolidating regional governments, preparing them for the transition to independence.

The elves were the first to be granted their liberty. Those elven nobles who knew Thrommel personally still honor his name. The Voll was next. The King officially legitimized the authority of the Archcleric of Rao, and then defined Veluna as the land of all the nobles who would pledge fealty to the Holy Father. The Viscounty of Verbobonc, where the newer faith of St. Cuthbert was in ascendancy, refused to subjugate itself to the dictates of the Archcleric. Instead it petitioned for independence in its own right. The petition was granted several years later after the Viscount successfully repelled an incursion of humanoids from the Gnarley Forest while skillfully balancing human and demi-human concerns.

Independence in the east, where Thrommel was less sure of loyalty, took longer. Since his family had long been allied with the Heironeoun church, Thrommel gave generously to priests working in the east. His goal was to create enough faithful lords in the region that he could safely trust the lands with their independence. The lords east of the Ritensa slowly came under the sway of the Great Axe. The faith became common among the heretofore faithless, and even found converts among those who had followed Hextor and Pholtus. One of the last acts of Thrommel’s reign was to quit his claim to the Lands of the Shield.

The northlands (east of the Veng, north of the Whyestil) never were actually granted their independence. Then again, the majority of petty rulers there never swore fealty to Thrommel to begin with. Their divided nature convinced Thrommel that they were not ready for self-governance yet, and he treated the lands like protectorates.

The Founding of the Order of the Hart

Half a century after independence, the heirs of Thrommel faced many of the same problems as their progenitor. The Great Kingdom had withdrawn to the east, but remained a threat. Incursions by Baklunish, humanoids, and northern nomads were constant. The borders of Furyondy, Veluna, and the Shield Lands were for the most part resolved, but internal feuds among lords were frequent. A succession of Kings struggled to create a unified nation out of their fractious subjects. Indeed, it was internal plots and conflicts that seemed the greater threat, for they magnified the danger of the external enemies. United, the lands could repulse any foreign invader, but the lands were far from united. No few lords had designs on the Kingship themselves, and they lay in wait for the house of Thrommel to weaken when facing foreign foes.

Early in the fourth century CY, the King of Furyondy created the Order of the Hart. The title of Knight of the Hart was bestowed in secret on select nobles (and occasionally on wealthy gentlemen) who were highly loyal to the King (2). These same nobles were dedicated to serving the King in the preservation of Furyondy, although their services were rendered in secret. The Knights moved about the country in ways consistent with their noble lifestyles – hunting, visiting relatives, making pilgrimages, attending market fairs and tournaments. But their real motives were gathering information for the King. Much of the information gathered was public knowledge, at least in the regions in question. The King merely wished to confirm the veracity of the information supplied to him by official sources. This was a valuable guard against corruption or those who wished to cover their incompetence with pleasing lies. But the knights were also attentive to non-public information. A noble who was publicly known to be staunchly loyal to the King would not be privy to the same information as one whose allegiance was in doubt. Thus, by keeping their true loyalties hidden, these nobles had better access to rumors and occasional invitations to join in conspiracies. The Hart were the King’s eyes and ears in many matters, though very few knew of their existence.

Some of the most valuable information gathered by these knights was reliable assessments of foreign threats facing the realm. When enemies gathered to attack, local nobles and Royal Army garrisons were expected to report the activity accurately to the King, so that he could respond by sending an appropriate number of troops to reinforce local soldiers. But proud nobles or ambitious commanders sometimes downplayed threats, refusing to request assistance in the hope of advancing their position. Their hubris cost the Kingdom unnecessary deaths and defeats. Others greatly exaggerated the enemy’s number, preferring that the King send his own troops rather than order them to risk their own. These cowards and misers tied up forces that were needed elsewhere. On more than one occasion, nobles simply failed to report obvious threats. They were found to have been bought off; the foreign raiders were allowed free access through their lands to attack neighboring lords, and the traitorous nobles received a share of the spoils. The Knights of the Hart served as a secret check against all these possibilities. Typically they arrived in a likely area in the guise of a hunting foray, and requested the courtesy of being hosted by local lords. Then they disappeared into the bush for days. Their quarry was not game, but accurate assessments of foreign forces. The code language of the Order was replete with hunting metaphors, such as “hunting hart” to refer to checking on foreign troops, and “hunting boar” to refer to the search for internal corruption. It is believed that the King who founded the knights, himself an avid huntsman, had this in mind when he named the Order.

New Threats, the Order is revealed

By the middle of the fourth century CY, the nature of the threats facing the realm had shifted. The independence of Nyrond in CY 356 (3) had removed the menace of the Great Kingdom, and with it the possibility of rebellious elements rejoining the Great Kingdom. Through the assiduous actions of two generations of Kings and knights, plots had been rooted out, disloyal nobles had been reduced in power, and loyal ones promoted. A national sentiment and identity had been forged. Cooperation now marked most interactions between nobles and King, church and state, and among the four nations of Furyondy, Veluna, the Shield Lands, and Verbobonc. While nobles still vied for power, the Kings of Furyondy sat secure on their thrones. They had the overall support of nobles, churches, and populace alike. In the event of foreign invasion, all elements of Furyondy unquestioningly sided with the King. Furyondy had become a true nation.

However, the gains made in internal stability were offset by an increase in external foes. At mid-century, Keoland was an advancing imperialist power. Although occupied by war against the Baklunish from c. CY 350 through CY 360, it still menaced Veluna and Verbobonc (4). Keoland was courting the demi-human communities of the Lorridges and Kron Hills, eager to incorporate their mineral resources into its war machine. Although rebuffed from its Baklunish conquests by CY 360, Keoland still held Bissel and the Grand March. It administered these with the militant-religious order of the Knights of the March. It was clear that Keoland intended to continue its expansion, and Veluna had reason to feel threatened (5).

In the north, raids from the nomads had increased. The petty lords of the Northern Reaches were failing one by one. The half-century of agitation in Nyrond prior to independence had withdrawn the attention of the Great Kingdom from their subjects around the Fellreeve Forest. In response to the nomad raids, these colonies had become armed camps, themselves following a semi-nomadic existence. Without the supervision of the Overking, they increasingly turned to banditry to survive (6). Their actions threatened the Shield Lands and the petty states that Furyondy still claimed east of the Whyestil.

Thus, the main threats facing Furyondy in the latter half of the fourth century were not those of internal security but of foreign invasion. The Royal Army was strong, but not large. Its heavy cavalry was formidable, but not swift. The noble units and peasant levies, when called for, could form the greatest army in the region, but they took time to muster. In contrast, the Knights of the March, the nomad horsemen, and the northern bandits could all strike swiftly and without warning. The rapidity of such mounted forces and the rapaciousness of the still-threatening humanoids meant that any delay in response to invasion would cost the states dearly, in lives, livestock, and land. Foes could ride in, round up cattle and slaughter peasants, and race home before the Army could be mobilized, and long before nobles could be mustered. The King of Furyondy deliberated, and decided that the allied nations needed an elite force capable of holding an enemy at bay until a more conventional force could be raised. The idea was to have a force of heroes to immediately intercept any invaders. Even if they could not stop an invasion, they could slow it, harass it, pin it down, until the regular forces of the state could respond (7).

The men and women of this order would have to be fearless and staunch in their loyalty to King and country. They would be the allied nations’ first line of defense. If they ran from a foe, even a superior one, the nations would lose the time they needed to marshal their forces. Faced with such a need, the King of Furyondy made a fateful decision – he made the Order of the Hart public. It was no longer primarily an agency of espionage. Bestowing Knighthood in the Hart became the King’s way of acknowledging those of great prowess, valor, and loyalty. By accepting a Knighthood, such a hero indicated his or her commitment to serve the allied nations above all else.

The King of Furyondy created two Branches of the Order, one for Furyondy and one among the Highfolk. At the same time, he advised the Archcleric on the creation of a third Branch to specifically serve Veluna. Verboblonc was too small and lacked the resources to host its own Branch; its worthy heroes were asked to join either the Furyondian or Velunese Branch. The Shield Lands, ever the most independent of the large states, refused both the King’s offer to organize their own Branch or to have their heroes accepted into the Furyondy Branch. Instead, they founded their own Order of Knighthood, that of the Knights of the Shield (also known as the Knights of Holy Shielding) (8).

The Knights of the Shield were overtly a religious order (8), dedicated to Heironeous. In a sense, they were the fruition of Thrommel I’s plans for the region, although they fiercely maintained their independence from Furyondy. The Velunese Branch of the Knights of the Hart was a religious order as well, although dedicated to Rao and the authority, both spiritual and temporal, of the Archcleric. In contrast, the Furyondy Branch was secular. Although most members were followers of Heironeous (as was the King), such a faith was not required for membership. Instead, the entrance requirement was simply a great personal loyalty to the King and the nation. Lastly, the High Forest Branch was neither religious nor broadly secular. Originally, it did not purport to defend the elven lands the way the other Branches served their respective nations. Rather, the High Forest Branch was seen as an adjunct to the Furyondy Branch. Its members were a handful of elves more loyal than most to the King of Furyondy.

The three Branches of the Hart, plus the Knights of the Shield, went on to grow and develop. Their intertwined destinies were shaped by the foes they faced and the people who led them. From this point on, it is necessary to chart their histories separately. This will be done in subsequent articles.

(1) A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 22

(2) “The Knights of the Order of the Hart were founded long ago, during the early time that Furyondy began allowing its vassal states their independence. The exact date of the order’s founding is known to very few, since the order remained secret for decades.” The Marklands p. 11.

(3) A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 9.

(4) “At the peak of this imperialism, Keoland held sway from the Pomarj to the Crystalmist Mountains, while her armies pushed into Ket and threatened Verbobonc and Veluna City (c. 350 - 360 CY)”. A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 27.

(5) "A Kingdom of great antiquity, Keoland has harbored territorial ambitions regarding its neighbors for centuries. Both Ket and Veluna have had reason to fear Keoland's armies in the past." From the Ashes, p. 29.

(6) “The Bandit Kingdoms are a collection of petty holdings which were founded sometime around 300 – 350 CY. “ A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 19.

(7) “Because these nations are quite decentralized and none maintains any sizable standing military force, each is subject to sudden incursions and threats from neighbors…The Knights of the Hart are therefore sworn to be ready at an instant’s notice to serve as a vanguard”. A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, pp. 79, 80.

(8) “When the Bandit Kingdoms began to grow powerful, the petty nobles of the north shores of the Nyr Dyv banded together in a mutual protection society…A headquarters was established at Admundfort, and a holy order of religious knights begun.” A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 34.


This article comes from Canonfire!

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