Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Frans Schtroumpf – Philhellene, romantic and soldier of fortune

Frans (François) Schtroumpf was born in Flanders in 1717, the youngest son of Louis, Count of Pirlouit, a small border county to the north of Alsace. A member of the imperial aristocracy, the Count owed his allegiance to the Spanish branch of the Habsburg family and was the lord of several estates in the Spanish Netherlands in addition to his ancestral lands. During the War of the Spanish Succession, these estates were occupied by the Anglo-Dutch army, only being returned to the Count on the cessation of hostilities.

Frans grew up in the County of Pirlouit, learning to hate the French, the English, the Dutch and the Austrian Habsburgs. He was educated by a number of professors, including the Greek scholar Theodore Bordiotes, who instilled a love of the glorious Greek past in the youthful Frans. As Count Louis fell into illness and dementia, Theodore became the legal guardian of Frans as well as his teacher and later the steward of his estates. On the death of his father in 1730, the title of Count of Pirlouit was inherited by Frans' elder brother, Philippe, with Frans inheriting the estate of Gegrildekaas in the Spanish Netherlands.

At the age of 15, Frans and Theodore travelled to Gegrildekaas and made the estate their home. Frans never returned to Pirlouit. At the age of 20, Frans and Theodore visited Constantinople and for three years travelled in some of the European lands that had previously been part of the Greek empire. Returning home, Frans developed a passionate love for the land where Theodore's family lived, a country which had only thrown off the Ottoman yoke some three decades previously. Vowing to return one day, Frans decided to dedicate his life to fighting against the Ottomans and freeing the Greek lands from the Ottomans.

In 1748, Frans decided to raise a regiment of cavalry from amongst expatriate Greeks and other philhellenes to travel to Borduria and offer his services to the Voivode, Constantine II. Initially, he travelled with a small number of similarly-minded young men, some more experienced soldiers of fortune and several Greek and Bordurian expatriates who he recruited as he passed through Italy and the Balkans. Treated harshly by the soldiers of the Syldavian king when he first tried to make landfall on the Syldavian coast, Frans found another nation to hate.

Eventually, in the winter of 1749, Frans and his small force of some 150 men arrived at the Court of Constantine in Szohôd, where he was presented to the Voivode, now styling himself as Basileus and Autokrator of the Bordurian Realms. He was given leave to raise a Freikorps by recruiting from among the peasantry and by the summer of 1750, his force had swelled to around 400 men, forming a Hussar regiment of four squadrons. Using his ancestral colours as the basis, this regiment was uniformed in blue and white. Sending recruiting agents north into the German states, Frans was also able to recruit around 450 men to form a regiment of foot, later known as the Schtroumpf Fusiliers. Together with the hussars, this force was known as the Frajkorps Schtroumpf. The actual business of training and command of the troops was given to an experienced mercenary, Georgios Skordeli, who Frans had met in the southern Bordurian city of Ugaljigrad where he was looking for a free company to join. Avaricious, hard-drinking and given over to violent mood swings and acts of cruelty, Skordeli nevertheless saw something in the young Flemish aristocrat that won him over and proved to be a loyal, if occasionally unpredictable appointment.

The Schtroumpf Freikorps was first used in combat in 1751, in a defensive action against the Ottomans in the south-eastern marches of Borduria. There was little work in the early stages of the campaign for the hussars, apart from some skirmishing along the valley of the River Snitz, but the infantry, under the command of Wouter Struwwelpeter, distinguished itself in the dogged defence of the town of Salinkari against a strong Ottoman force that included two regiments of Janissaries. Frans himself was present at this siege and saw action on the town walls, where he was wounded but fought well, rallying a company of his fusiliers and leading a charge that turned back a dangerous attack by Ottoman irregulars. Later in the same campaign, the Freikorps was involved in the capture of an Ottoman supply train and the routing of a column of infantry intending to capture the strategic bridge over the Snitz at Orhot, a town with a famous Orthodox monastery and basilica. After this action, the Freikorps adopted a flag featuring an Orthodox cross superimposed with the likeness of Saint Eudoxia of Orhot. At the end of the victorious campaign, the Freikorps returned to its quarters in Ugaljigrad and Frans, Wouter and Georgios travelled to Szohôd, where they were rewarded by being inducted into the Order of the Basilikoi Anthropoi. Frans was also given the title of Zupan of Ugaljigrad and Wouter and Georgios the titles of Kephale of Foot and Horse respectively.

In the winter of 1751, Frans returned to Flanders via Italy and Austria, recruiting replacement troops for his Freikorps en route. By the summer of 1752, Frans was again in Borduria and in July of that year was betrothed to Nastasia, eldest daughter of Baltasar Kokinos, Boyar of Slanina. They were married at Christmas of the same year. When campaigning restarted in the spring of 1753, the Freikorps was part of the army of Marshal Wilhelm von Schmodt, Landgraf of Blotten-Papen which was sent to ravage the Ottoman province to the south of Borduria.

The Freikorps was present at the victories of Iskander and Zornik but was not part of the disastrous siege of Miknik, where the Bordurian army was severely weakened by an outbreak of plague and forced to retreat in disarray. By this time, Frans and his troops were deployed in the west, harrying the Syldavians in the valley of the Mekava Potak and finding fame in the victory of Struca Gora, where the Schtroumpf Hussars led a crucial cavalry charge against the Syldavian right flank, causing an already weakened Pandur regiment to break and capturing 20 guns for the loss of a mere 25 troopers. This led to the rolling up of the Syldavian line and a Bordurian victory.

Frans returned from the wars in October 1753, hailed as a hero, to find himself a father of twin sons, baptised as George and Johannes.

The next few years saw the Freikorps Schtroumpf engaged in a series of campaigns along the border with Syldavia, along the valley of the River Mensodjrinje, which flows northwards out of Lake Poliszchov to join the larger River Djrinje, and, as part of a larger force, across the River Snezna into the Syldavian province of Polishov as far as the town of Tremens., where the Bordurians were defeated by a Syldavian army led by Generalmajor Ercole di Grissini, and which contained the Pivoklet regiment of Pandurs, whose Jäger company was at the time commanded by Hauptmann Wilhelm Tischdecke, later to become a celebrated Syldavian general.

Pukovnik (colonel) Schtroumpf was again in Flanders, dealing with business matters, during late 1756 and did not return to Bordurian service until August 1757. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier, with Podpukovnik (Lieutenant-colonel) Georgios Skordeli taking over command of the Freikorps. In 1758, on the battlefield death of Skordeli, the Freikorps was split into two separate entities, the Hussar regiment and the Fusilier one.

In 1760, Brigadier Schtroumpf was in action against the Ottomans once more, commanding the Light Cavalry brigade in the ill-fated First Cherna Reka campaign, with Schtoumpf's brigade active in protecting the retreating army from numerous attacks by Bashi-bazouks and Ottoman irregular cavalry. Promoted to General-Major in 1761, Schtroumpf commanded all cavalry forces in the so called Poletje Strele War, which lasted for a mere three months in July, August and September 1762 and which was ended by the crushing defeat of the Bordurian army at the Third Battle of Lake Pollishoff. Borduria's nemesis at this battle was Oberst Wilhelm Tischdecke, whose quick-thinking and bravery turned the tide of the battle, leading to the collapse of the central Bordurian infantry. Without a gallant and dogged fighting retreat by the Bordurian cavalry, the defeat would have been far worse. However, General Schtroumpf was unhorsed during the retreat and suffered the loss of an eye, plus several other wounds. He spent the next four years on his estates near the city of Ugaljigrad, writing his memoirs and watching his sons, and two younger daughters grow towards adulthood.

In 1767, Schtroumpf was once again in action against the Syldavians, again commanding the cavalry in yet another invasion of the Syldavian province of Polishov. Once again, he distinguished himself in combat and this time ending the campaign on the winning side when King Ottokar IX agreed to Bordurian demands to cede control of the Djrinje river trade to Borduria, to prevent the rampaging Bordurian army from laying siege to the Syldavian capital, Klow.

In recognition of his service to the Crown, Autokrator Constantine II granted Schtroumpf the title of Guardian of the Western Rivers, which carried the right to levy customs on the river trade, and elevated him to the rank of Boyar. In 1769, Schtroumpf was made ambassador to the Court of Catherine the Great. He remained in St Petersburg with his wife and children for three years. On his return to Borduria, he took up the post of Primarna Komandant Konjice, or Primary Commander of Cavalry. In September 1773, Frans Schtroumpf fell ill with a fever, which spread rapidly and within a few weeks he succumbed to his illness.

He was given a state funeral and was buried with full military honours in the Basilica of Saint Eudoxia of Orhot in Ugaljigrad. His two sons followed him into military service. George was killed in 1775, fighting against the Ottomans but Johannes survived to become a general under the successor to Constantine II, his grandson Alexander I Cantacuzene.

Frans is remembered in Borduria to this day as "The Flemish Xenophon".

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