Somewhere in central Europe (to the right of Prussia, perhaps; to the east of Austria; a bit up and then a lot down from Sweden) lies the region known as Mittelheim. Few maps mention it, except perhaps to append the note 'Here be manure'. Little has been written about it (still less, if one excludes the graffiti on the walls of Prussian water closets). Yet here it is: Mittelheim - once part of the Merovingian kingdom; then exchanged with the Barbarossas for a horse and two casks of leech brandy. Somehow, over the centuries that followed, Mittelheim slipped out of the direct control of the European great houses and established itself as a small independent kingdom; too poor to loot, and so muddy that it seemed too much effort to invade. Since then, the Mittelheim kingdom has fractured into a plethora of smaller political entities - Burgravates, Landgravates, Palatinates, Electorates and sundry combinations, all created by local lords keen on trying to improve their image in Europe more widely by removing the word 'Mittelheim' from their title. Perhaps the nearest Mittelheim has come to impinging upon the major powers of Europe was when the Prussian King, Frederick I, strayed close to the Mittelheim border and exclaimed: 'What in God's name is that awful smell?'
Yet by 1756 Mittelheim’s peace was in the balance. Over the long centuries, Mittelheim developed (if the word ‘develop’ could ever be properly applied to a place where the chief institute for the study of science is the Naffdorf Academy of Alchemie and Whytchcrafte) a form of regional power-balancing, in which order was maintained by the Kingdom of Gelderland. Gelderland is the leviathan of Mittleheim: the Goliath to the Davids of the surrounding petty powers. Of course, by comparison with Europe generally, this is rather like describing Gelderland as a big pile of manure surrounded by some rather smaller piles of manure. Nevertheless, it is Gelderland that has, over the years, prevented from tearing one another to pieces the clutch of chinless in-breds that constitute the ruling houses of the surrounding petty states.
All of this threatened to crumble. The King of Gelderland, Karl-Rudolph III, of the House of Neissup-Clapphandze, lay on his deathbed. Having put rather too much effort into eating pies and rather too little into producing legitimate issue, Karl-Rudolph was, as a result, a corpulent salad-dodger with no direct heir. The final nail in the King’s especially reinforced coffin came as a result of an extensive drinking binge: having been called by the Duke of Styria ‘a thigh-slapping shandy boy,’ Karl-Rudolph sought to prove his manliness by quaffing seven tankards of Heldenbrau Grossenbier, a brew with the consistency of mercury and about the same health benefits. With the King only hours from meeting his maker, the process began that ignited what became known as The Wars of the Gelderland Succession: The Seven Beers War; the Cod War; the War of the Spanish Suck Session; and the Dirty Ears War.