Zuidland is a kingdom to the south-west of the Konigtum. Its capital is Vertrekstad. Zuidlanders are predominantly traders, who for centuries were known or sailing in fast galleys that were rather similar to the rather more scary longships of the Dragon-men. The kingdom has two main natural resources: Wood and vast amounts of sheep, and Zuidlander woollen cloth is very well reputed internationally.
Extremely Basic Political Setup
Kings of Zuidland come from seven families. Each family puts forward a candidate, and then the hundred richest merchants in the kingdom vote on which candidate will become king for life. Their choice is considered sacrosanct, and kings may not be deposed. Anybody who attempts it, even if they succeed in killing or driving the king out of the country, will then have the whole country opposed to them (This has happened only three times).
Due to the kingdoms relatively small size in relation to the other continental nations, their national emphasis on trade has been a massive boon to them. After their naval power began steadily growing in the 900s, they began establishing trading posts in the Southlands and along the coasts of the Continent and Werkland. With time, they came to have small colonies in several countries, and they still hold quite a few of these (Such as Ijsveld, in the Noriho Archipelago).
They were transformed from a simple trading country into an emergent power in the 900s by Jan III van Vertrekstad. When Jan was elected, Zuidland's ships were mostly merchant ships, who were occasionally pressed into service when needed. Most military funding went towards manning the border forts, that kept the Konigtum and the Kingdom of the Plains from attempting to invade as they had previously done. All of the external trade of Zuidland was controlled by various powerful merchants, who tended to trade with enemies and allies of Zuidland without care.
His first step was to make the border forts more efficient, minimizing necessary costs while still keeping the ability to respond rapidly to invasions. He got rid of the majority of mercenary forces in the armies that defended Zuidland, replacing them with levies from the surrounding countryside, much as was the method in the Four Kingdoms. Each fort was assigned a region around it, and each of these regions had two shifts of men. Each shift lasted half a year, and men could plan in advance for what would happen to their property while they did their shift.
He then turned to the matter of the navy. He began the process of destroying the merchants' monopolies on external trade, taking advantage of the fact that Zuidlander kings cannot be unelected, not even by the same merchant families who had elected him. Merchants were forced to keep accurate records of every transaction, in and outside of Zuidland. These records had to be presented to customs offices upon every return to Zuidland. Any merchant who did not comply with these new regulations, or who attempted to falsify records, had all of his business property seized (I.E. his ships, their cargoes, along with any warehouses he owned), though their houses and farms, if they owned any, were generally left untouched.
With these ships, warehouses and cargoes, Jan now began refilling the treasury by selling the contents of the warehouses and of the cargoes, either within Zuidland or outside. Ships were then broken apart for his next project. He had brought in shipmakers from the Kingdom of the Swamplands and from the Low Kingdom, and now began building a Navy, both to defend the coast and to counter the increasing numbers of Dragon-Man Pirates. Large numbers of ships were built, varying between the kind of fast galley sailed by the dragon-men themselves to the huge castle ships used by the Low Kingdom. These ships were crewed by the old crews of the original merchant ships, as well as by adventure seekers from the Four Kingdoms.
Other ships were made, cargo ships for his greatest project, which earned him both the loathing and grudging admiration of the merchant families. The Zuidland Trading Company was set up, and was used to pour money into the treasury, allowing him to improve various things within the kingdom, such as roads, bridges, defences and other such things. It had the added bonus of allowing to lower taxes on his populace, which naturally made him extremely popular with everyone. Zuidland Trading Company ships are defended by the Zuidlander navy, meaning that few dare to attack it, which means that less cargoes are lost to pirates.
The Zuidlander navy succeeded in significantly lowering the number of Dragon-Man pirates to venture into the Seawerk, and beyond into the Sunnesea, and those that do generally avoided any ship flying the flag of Zuidland, due to fear of retribution. This contributed to the end of the Dragon Age, as it was no longer nearly as profitable to raid from the Archipelago.
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