The First Battle of Lustadt
The two battles of Lustadt are inseparable in history.
The first, the result of dynastic struggles in the tiny Balkan municipality
of Lutha, went virtually unnoticed in the international press. The second,
although more prominent due to the participation of two larger nations
at the center of the emerging world war, was nevertheless a mere extension
of the first battle. The dynastic question was not settled by the first
engagement in 1912, and tensions built again resulting in a second, larger
and decisive battle two years later. Although the two battles were each
quite distinctive encounters in the field, the causes of both were basically
Three Kings for One Throne
The first Battle of Lustadt developed from an unusual
struggle for the throne between three men of Rubinoth blood. What made
the struggle so unusual was that the contender with the strongest claim
would not fight for the throne; he with the weakest claim wanted it the
most; and the contender in the middle, while trying to avoid the throne,
was instrumental in deciding who got it. Knowledge of the dynastic position
and motivation of these three contenders is vital to understanding the
cause of the First Battle of Lustadt.
Leopold was the contender with the strongest claim to
the throne. In fact, he was the legal king of Lutha as the year 1912 and
the events leading to the battle began to unfold. His father, latest in
a line of Rubinoths who had ruled Lutha for generations, was on the throne
at the turn of the century. However, when the king died in 1902, and the
13-year-old Leopold advanced to the throne, he was unable to assert his
When Barney Custer first saw Leopold in the hospital at
Tafelberg, he readily observed that this man was not fit to rule. “While
the king was evidently of sound mind, his was not one of those iron characters
and courageous hearts that would willingly fight to the death for his own
rights and the rights and happiness of his people.” Indeed, Leopold demonstrated
that he was only willing to seek the throne if someone of stronger character
was willing to do the fighting for him.
The son of a Rubinoth princess, Barney Custer had the
second strongest claim to the throne among the three contenders. Princess
Victoria was the sister of Leopold’s father. Late in the 1890s, Barney’s
father, an American, fled from Lutha with the princess, never to return.
Naturally, the existence of their unborn son and his place in the line
of succession remained unknown until Barney came to Lutha in 1912. Barney
never wanted the throne, and yet he was to be the central figure in both
of the battles that determined the throne’s future.
He felt obligated to become involved in the dynastic struggle
for several reasons. First, his adventures with Emma von der Tann soon
after his arrival in Lutha created in Barney’s mind an obligation to her
and her family. Emma had made it clear to Barney the fate that would befall
her father and his house if Peter became king. Second, Barney felt an obligation
to the boy Rudolph, who had helped him escape the camp of the brigand Yellow
Franz. The boy was shot dead when the brigands tried to recapture Barney.
Since Rudolph thought he was helping the true king of Lutha, Barney felt
his death would have been without meaning if Peter were allowed to take
the throne uncontested. Finally, his mother’s blood gave Barney some sympathy
for the people of Lutha. He asked himself, “Were they to be further and
continually robbed and downtrodden beneath the heel beneath Peter’s scoundrelly
officials because their true king chose to evade the responsibilities that
were his by birth?” Not wanting the throne, Barney found himself fighting
to defend it for another against a third who was ruthless in pursuit of
Since his claim to the throne was weakest, Peter of Blentz
had to be ruthless if he wanted to attain it. An uncle of Leopold, Peter’s
great-grandmother had been a Rubinoth princess. Peter’s ambitions for the
throne were sparked in 1902, when Leopold’s father died, leaving only a
13-year-old boy between Peter and the throne. Peter grabbed Leopold and
ensconced him the caste at Blentz. Proclaiming Leopold insane, Peter had
himself declared regent during the lifetime of the young King Leopold,
“or until God, in His infinite mercy shall see fit to restore to us in
full mental vigor our beloved monarch.” Peter knew the throne would be
his if Leopold died, and that would have been easily affected had it not
been for Ludwig von der Tann, minister of war under the old king. During
the 10 years of Leopold’s detention, Von der Tann remained loyal to Leopold
and was Peter’s greatest menace.
Three Roads to Lustadt
In early October 1912, two occurrences combined to create
the dynastic crisis that led to the First Battle of Lustadt. The first
was the escape of Leopold from the castle of Blentz, and the second Barney
Custer’s arrival in his mother’s country on a vacation. The three contenders
for the throne were, for the first time, in Lutha and free from control
of each other.
At this time, no one, including Barney Custer, knew that
the American possessed Rubinoth blood. This fact and Barney’s physical
resemblance to Leopold were key factors in the subsequent events leading
to the battle. After Leopold escaped Blentz, he was found and hidden by
people in the mountains around Tafelberg. Meanwhile, Barney, mistaken for
the king, had been captured by Yellow Franz’s brigands, who then attempted
to ransom his release to Peter. Peter instead offered Yellow Franz 10,000
marks to kill his captive.
The ambitious Peter then made a mistake. Without waiting
to have the king’s body in his hands, he announced Leopold’s death and
struck an agreement with Von der Tann to put an end to the mounting civil
tensions. Peter would be crowned king of Lutha in the cathedral at Lutha
on November 3, 1912.
The Coronation Confrontation
The somber coronation ceremony was abruptly aborted when
Lt. Otto Butzow led 20 troopers of the Royal Horse thundering to the foot
of the chancel steps as Peter was about to be crowned. Entering the cathedral
behind came the king, or so it seemed. Actually, it was Barney Custer posing
as the king in order to halt the coronation. Barney had seen the real king
alive in the hospital at Tafelberg and had been hurrying to Ludstadt when
he met Butzow on the road. They royalist Butzow escorted Barney to Lustadt,
where their arrival precipitated a crisis.
So close to the throne, Peter was not about to let it
slip through his fingers. Knowing Barney to be an imposter, Peter ordered
him arrested and the cathedral cleared. However, by displaying the royal
ring of Lutha, given to him by Leopold, Barney was able to rally the support
of Von der Tann and others at the ceremony. Fighting broke out, but when
over half the palace guards supported Barney, Peter withdrew and Barney
became dictator of Lutha for the next 48 hours.
Peter fled the city before he could be arrested and immediately
went abroad in the lowlands to recruit followers to help him regain the
throne forcibly. Peter worked fast, and his objective soon became apparent
— he intended to seize the palace of Lustadt. On the evening of November
4, a cavalry officer reported to Barney that Peter had successfully raised
an army. The imposter was quick to respond, and when the first rays of
the new day’s sun shone through the valleys of the Black Mountains, they
were greeted by the sound of booming canon. The First Battle of Lustadt
began early on the clear, cold morning of November 5, 1912.
The citizens of Lutha divided along geographic lines.
Lustadt is a mountain town, and from its environs and from the mountainous
country stretching north to Tafelberg came men to support the man they
supposed to King Leopold. The mountain people had long supported the direct
Rubinoth line. They remembered Leopold as a boy and loved his father and
his grandfather before him. On the other side, Peter found good recruiting
in the lowlands of the southern part of the country. Under Peter’s regency,
the people there had grown fat in the corrupt executive, judiciary, and
military offices that Peter had granted them.
In addition to the “fair-sized” army he had raised in
the lowlands, Peter also brought to the field two regiments of government
infantry and a squadron of cavalry, who had united with him in the belief
that the true king was dead. The royalists were able to muster a thousand
infantrymen under the direction of Von der Tann. Under Butzow’s leadership,
the Royal Horse Guards remained loyal to the king, and Barney rode with
them during the battle.
Position and Strategy
Peter advanced on Ludstadt from the south. This caused
him a disadvantage on the field as it necessitated his troops making a
slow advance up a slope toward the city. Peter also gave a visibility advance
to the royalists, who had a commanding view of the entire southern exposure
from the heights about the city. The land to the north of the city would
have provided Peter with a better opportunity in the battle, but he probably
chose to attack from the south due to the time factor. Peter had left Ludstadt
after the aborted coronation on the afternoon of November 3. Within 40
hours he had recruited his army and was advancing up the slope toward Ludstadt.
He must have thought his quick attack would catch the royalists unprepared
and was willing to accept the disadvantage of the southern field rather
than give the royalists 24 hours more to prepare. It would have taken that
long for Peter to march his army around to the more advantageous field
to the north.
With Barney Custer having no previous experience in such
matters, the original royalist battle plan was no doubt designed by Von
der Tann. The old minister’s strategy was predictably conservative. The
infantry was massed in lines outside the city walls ready to advance and
meet the enemy’s infantry in the open field. The Royal Horse was positioned
on the heights above the town. From this position, well above and behind
their infantry, they would be sent into the battle as the crisis developed
or an advantage presented itself.
The battle was decided by the actions of the two commanders
in the field. Barney Custer was able to survey the field and alter the
royalist strategy in mid-stream. Peter, on the other hand, was not imaginative
and was out of position at the critical moment.
Peter’s strategy was based on what had proved effective
in European battles ever since the English used it to destroy the vaunted
highland charge of the Scots at Culloden over 200 years before. Artillery
would be used to blast holes in the royalist infantry lines. An orderly
advance through the weakened and demoralized enemy would follow. Peter
had positioned his artillery on a wooded knoll southeast of the city, and
the shells falling among the city’s southern fortifications caused the
royalists much concern in the early going. Under the cover of the artillery
fire, Peter’s infantry started its slow advance up the slope toward the
Peter’s plan had two fatal flaws, however. First, he did
not envision an assault on his artillery and, therefore, provided no protection
in its rear. Second, Peter held his cavalry too far behind his infantry
lines for effective use when it was needed.
At the beginning of the battle, Barney Custer was with
Von der Tann and the Royal Horse on the heights above the city. Having
a clear view of both the enemy’s artillery and advancing skirmish lines,
Barney quickly concluded that Peter’s artillery must be silenced. If the
royalist infantry advanced into the open field, they would be cut to pieces.
If they waited for the artillery to cease of its own accord, they would
have to fight with their backs to the very walls of the city.
Barney knew the crisis was at hand even as the battle
began. Ordering Von der Tann to take command of the infantry, Barney led
the Royal Horse through the woods to the east of the city for an assault
on the artillery on the knoll. Barney had instructed Von der Tann to begin
a cautious infantry assault, and with the enemy’s artillery so distracted
in repositioning their pieces to accommodate this advance, the Royal Horse
reached their rear undetected. Barney himself led the charge the flooded
through Peter’s caissons. A crisis occurred when Barney’s horse was shot
under him. He survived the tumble and remounted another horse to find the
knoll won and the regent’s artillerymen fleeing down the hill and spilling
onto the battlefield.
The battle on the slope was then quick and one-sided for
the royalists. The Royal Horse’s charge out of the wooded ridge to the
east of the regent’s infantry was Von der Tann’s signal to order a torrid
advance down the slope. Peter, with his cavalry a half-mile behind his
own infantry line, was helpless. Before his cavalry could possibly reach
the battle, his saw the right of his line crumbling. To avoid a complete
route, Peter ordered a slow and orderly retreat to a suburb in the valley
below the city. The First Battle of Lustadt was over.
Peter’s decision to retreat was wise. It kept casualties
to a minimum on both sides and left him one last chance to attain the throne
through political intrigue. In a conference after the battle, Peter was
able to raise doubts among Lutha’s nobles that it was the real Leopold
who they were supporting. Peter was allowed freedom of movement within
the country and a chance to prove his contention that the real Leopold
Peter, however, was unable to recover from his loss on
the battlefield. The battle ended shortly before 9 a.m., and a king had
to be crowned by noon the same day. In those three hours, Peter was able
to put Leopold’s life in danger, but Barney Custer again proved to be more
than a match for Peter. When Barney escorted Leopold into the cathedral
at noon, the regency ended for good, and the boy king came into his own.
Accepted by all and secure in his kingship for the first
time, Leopold aggressively sought to dispose of his two Rubinoth rivals.
Peter was arrested and Barney Custer fled the country after learning he
too was to be imprisoned. The dynastic struggles of Lutha seemed revolved
However, there were other forces at work in the Balkans.
Within two years they would cause coveting eyes to focus on Lutha. The
assassination at Sarajevo and Leopold’s paranoid leadership conspired to
bring another larger, bloodier battle to the city of Lustadt in less than
(Source: The Mad King by Edgar Rice Burroughs)