December 08, 2011

Escaping from castles


Ryô's escape from Sakai in chapter 5 of Serpent of Time is partly based on The Story of O-An, the autobiographical account of a girl who fled a besieged castle during the Battle of Sekigahara (1600). Quoting from Haruo Shirane's translation (Early Modern Japanese Literature, 1600-1900):

My father came in secret to fetch us from the Keep. He told my mother and me where we were to go and put up a ladder at the far end of the northern ramparts; from there he lowered us with a rope into a tub, and we crossed to the other side of the moat.

During the Warring States period, escaping from besieged castles was a necessary survival skill, though as in the case of O-An, backchannel negotiations and quid pro quos were often involved.

Oda Nobunaga married his sister Oichi to a rival warlord in order to secure access to the territory around Kyôto. When the alliance broke down, Nobunaga sent his top general, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, to lay siege to the castle. Oichi was eventually allowed to "escape" with her three daughters.

After Nobunaga's assassination, Oichi married the warlord Shibata Katsuie. When a struggle over succession pitted Hideyoshi and Katsuie against each other, Hideyoshi lay siege to Katsuie's castle. Though granted free passage through the lines, this time Oichi chose to die with her husband.

However, she allowed her daughters to be "rescued." Hideyoshi appointed himself their guardian. The oldest, Yodo, later became his mistress and bore him his heir, Toyotomi Hideyori. The youngest, Gô, went on to marry Tokugawa Hidetada, who became the second Tokugawa shogun.

Gô's daughter, Princess Sen, eventually married her cousin, Hideyori, in an futile effort to unite the Toyotomi and Tokugawa clans.

When the power struggle between the clans escalated into open hostilities, Gô's in-laws lay siege to Ôsaka Castle. Her sister and son-in-law committed seppuku (the polite word for hara-kiri) while the castle burned. Sen was allowed to escape, but her stepson got the Richard III treatment.

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