So, I have a group of 6 small kingdoms (in a medieval low fantasy world) that share a lot of their culture, since they were just one country in the past. In my story, a powerful nation (let's call it P) is becoming too dangerous and has the potential to beat all these kingdoms in a war (and go even further).

The ruler of one of these kingdoms, which is a woman, realizes that the only way to have a chance against P is using the forces of all the 6 kingdoms together. Since she knows all the other rulers and knows that they probably won't work effectively as a group or accept to be lead by a female, her decision is to conquer all these kingdoms, one by one, and become a central ruler of them all.

Of course, making war to all of these countries would take a lot of resources, time, and result in many human losses. However, she prefers to play clever as much as possible (she is very smart and has a lot of strategies) and lose some men when needed instead of simply letting P overcoming everyone.

So, my question is: would a medieval ruler see this as a valid strategy? Were there similar situations in real History?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 5 '19 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ Not medieval but you may actually want to take a look at records of warfare in the Bible, in the Old Testament. Genesis 14 comes to mind. There's also the takeover of Canaan by the Israelites (in the book of Joshua), the kingdom of Babylon (conquered all) under king Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom of Syria, the kingdom of Israel, and all of their various kings and conquests. This all of course depends upon your view of scripture, but you'd probably have a good vested interest. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Jul 5 '19 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Alexander the Great is another example. Conquered the Greek city-states to form an alliance against Persia. @Andrew $\endgroup$
    – user207421
    Jul 5 '19 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ Dealing with this kind of problem is the entire point of Mutual Defense Pacts. $\endgroup$ Jul 6 '19 at 0:19

14 Answers 14


"So, I have a group of 6 small kingdoms (in a medieval low fantasy world) that share a lot of their culture, since they were just one country in the past. In my story, a powerful nation (let's call it P) is becoming too dangerous and has the potential to beat all these kingdoms in a war (and go even further)."

  • To anchor a general world-view I will assume that "medieval" means specifically European medieval. The structure, resource, capabilities and general outlook of medieval states were quite different elsewhere; for example, the resources and capabilities of medieval China are not directly comparable with anything Europe had to offer.

  • In the middle ages, a "nation" was simply and only the set of people sharing a common mother tongue. A medieval nation had no political dimension, it was in no way, shape or form linked to a state. The age of nation-states is modern, centuries after the end of the Middle Ages. In medieval times nobody even thought that people sharing a common mother tongue ought or should have the same king, or that the subjects of a king ought or should have a common mother tongue. Using the word "nation" for a medieval state is just wrong.

  • It is not uncommon in medieval history to see such collections of small states threatened by the rise of a nearby large or bellicose state or alliance. For example, the many little Italian states threatened by France; the Balkan states threatened by the Ottoman Empire; the many small Arab states in Al-Andalus threatened by their northern Christian neighbours; and examples may continue.

"The ruler of one of these kingdoms, which is a woman, realizes that the only way to have a chance against P is using the forces of all the 6 kingdoms together. Since she knows all the other rulers and knows that they probably won't work effectively as a group or accept to be lead by a female, her decision is to conquer all these kingdoms, one by one, and become a central ruler of them all."

  • Wait, what? She realizes that the only way to have a chance against the Predatory Empire is to use the combined forces of the six kingdoms, fine. How does she make the jump to embark on a war of conquest?

    • She should first seek an alliance with the other five kingdoms. All right, the diplomatic efforts may fail, as they failed in Italy when the northen Italian states felt threatened by France.

    • If an alliance is not possible, which may very well be the case, her next strategic objective would be to unite the kingdoms under one crown. Not conquer, unite. For example, she may select one promising husband from the five kings, and offer her hand in marriage provided that he understands the threat posed by the dastardly Predatories. Now their combined kingdom is larger than any the other four, and they stand a better chance.

      The canonical example of this approach working is the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, which was the starting point of the unification of Spain. They were both young, they were both smart and they were both ambitious; the marriage was their joint idea, and it gave them the upper hand in creating one state out of the mess that was the Iberian peninsula in the 15th century.

  • She cannot conquer the other five kingdoms "one by one" unless the other five kings are uncommonly stupid. She is one against five.

    Say she attacks king A. Kings B, C, and D sit idle. She beats king A and takes over his lands. One, two, three years pass and she attacks king B. By this time:

    • Kings C and D should see the writing on the wall and come to the aid of king B, or, even worse,

    • King C or maybe king D calls for help from the Predatory Empire nearby. This has happened, and not rarely. In fact, the expected strategy from the Predatory Empire is to find one or two kings in the six-pack and seek their alliance, with promises of favorable treatment, maintaining the autonomy of their kingdoms, the like.

    Moreover, she has the Predatory Empire to consider. The Predatories see that she has taken kingdom A, and now one of their intended targets is not so small any more. When she attacks king B, what makes them not attack in force, in order to profit from the disarray in the six-pack? They wouldn't want to see a new power emerge near their borders.

  • It's a red herring that "they probably won't work effectively as a group or accept to be lead by a female". Direct meetings between medieval sovereigns were rare and exceptional events. Sovereigns were not expected to sit and work together, they had diplomats and ambassadors.

"Making war to all of these countries would take a lot of resources, time, and result in many human losses."

  • That's putting it mildly. Medieval states were not war machines. They were exceedingly poor, and could not realistically mount a military campaign lasting more than a few months at best. If she engages in a conquest effort she should be ready to dedicate decades to this goal, and hope fervently that the Predatories are occupied elsewhere.

That's not to say that it cannot be made to work in a story. Nothing in this answer is to be taken as an absolute bar against an epic describing how the queen of E took over the kingdoms of A, B, C and D by a series of heroic feats of arms. All I wanted to make clear is that there are great difficulties, which need to be addressed and resolved.

  • For example, she makes a secret understanding with king B that she will take kingdom A and king B will take kingdom C, leaving king D in fear for the durability of his crown. She then uses deception and intrigue to push the combined B-C kingdom into attempting to conquer kingdom D, and intervenes at the right point, remainig the last standing sovereign.

  • Maybe during all this trouble, the Predatory Empire is occupied by a long struggle at their distant borders against their hereditary foe, the Mysterious Orientals, and she can exploit a decade of neglect.

All in all, it's plausible enough for a great story, provided that the author takes the trouble to set things up correctly and addresses the obvious pitfalls.

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ @johannfowl: The idea of a nation is not recent; the Ancient Greeks, for example, were aware that they were one nation. The idea of nation-state is recent, as recent as the 18th or 19th century. And yes, nostalgia can be a powerful force for propaganda. For example, one can look at the history and Europe and argue that a large part of it is the history of repeated attempts to re-make the Roman Empire and its peace and prosperity, with the European Union being the current incarnation of the idea. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 3 '19 at 6:36
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    $\begingroup$ "She cannot conquer the other five kingdoms "one by one" unless the other five kings are uncommonly stupid. She is one against five." this entire question is fascinating to me but I wanted to comment on this in particular. I'm coming here from a Crusader Kings 2 player. In short, it's a simulation/strategy game set in medieval Europe. I'm not really that familiar with the history (albeit, CK2 is based on lots of historical data) but from purely gameplay perspective that still holds up. You could play a king that tries to consolidate other kingdoms in to your own realm but to do it as a $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jul 3 '19 at 8:48
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ pre-emptive response to an external threat? Seems suicidal. You can wage war against them one by one (and probably should, else be torn apart) but while you're waging war the other kings might just pounce on you and/or your target. You are both weak and distracted, so it's prime time for other characters to capitalise on the opportunity. Not to mention that war leaves your resources drained (troops killed, money spent). Unless your realm is overwhelmingly more powerful, you need some recuperation between wars. In the scenario here, it seems like pretty evenly matched opponents, which $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jul 3 '19 at 8:48
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ means that you lose a lot going against them. Anything that pops up can mess up your plans - a rebellion breaks out, or your heir dies, or maybe the ruler dies, or maybe your vassals start disliking you for any reason. At weakened state, a faction might decide to go ahead and try to push their demands - some of your vassals might want independence or simply to replace you with their own preference for the crow. This might (if you're lucky) be a member of your family (well, "lucky"), or they might demand the king you replaced were to be reinstalled as monarch. So, the "consolidation" would $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jul 3 '19 at 8:48
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ be costly. And in the mean time what is the Predatory Empire going to do? Stand and watch? Or just pounce on the war-torn and distracted countries? Bottom line, there would be not only the other five kings to worry about but many other internal and external threats. Unless the plan goes absolutely perfectly and nothing ever goes wrong, and everything ever goes in your favour, I don't see this as possible. Again, speaking as a CK2 player. The real world situation would be even more complex. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jul 3 '19 at 8:50

Her strategy invites conquest by P.

If P is thinking about attacking, it can do it when these small countries are exhausted and in disarray from fighting each other.

The question is whether your canny leader wants to avoid conquest or whether she wants to rule the 6 countries. With the threat of P the latter seems unlikely.

If she wants to unite the 6 but cannot herself lead them then she needs to unite behind one of the other leaders who (because he is male and it is apparently that kind of culture) might be able to do it. Ideally he is manipulable but not so dense he cannot understand the threat from P or the fact that your character is right to be concerned.

She unites her country with his. Maybe she marries him. He is king and she is queen. Now the balance of power has shifted as regards the 6, now 5. The king (reading his lines) makes clear to the other countries that goal is not conquest but to avoid being conquered. Two agree to form a coalition. One does not and the three of the coalition occupy and partition it. The last figures it out and joins the coalition.

P will attack weaker targets elsewhere. The best defense is a good offense. When P attacks elsewhere, the coalition makes its move.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Her desire is much more for an union to defend her culture than merely ruling over everyone. I like your answer because her first move is, indeed, a marriage with one of the 5 kings. $\endgroup$
    – johannfowl
    Jul 3 '19 at 0:09

Since she knows all the other rulers and knows that they probably won't work effectively as a group or accept to be lead by a female

No medieval armies worked very effectively as a group. They weren't armies in the sense we understand them today, nor even in the sense that Wellington and Napoleon would have. Lords raised volunteers (or levies) from the land they controlled, and their people were loyal to them first. Because the individual groups were run by the lords, politics was a massive problem. Managing a medieval army was therefore an exercise in cat-herding multiple small groups with leaders who did not always get on with each other. Robb Stark's army in GoT was a good example of that.

Invading another kingdom is therefore an exercise in futility. The lords of the kingdom you've taken over will either be dead or opposed to you. If you parachute in new people from your country as lords, the locals aren't going to fight for them. With the Normans as an example, you'd need another generation for that to settle down, and you don't have that time.

Faced with a common enemy though, they certainly did unite to fight that common enemy. The Crusades showed that in action, where people from all over Europe came together to fight. (We'll leave to one side whether the cause was good or not.)

Being female was no limit on leading an army. In England, the Empress Mathilda invaded and took over half the country, with her son finishing the job. And Eleanor of Aquitaine dominated much of Europe during her life. No-one thought they were lesser for being female. And with multiple countries in play, no one country "leads". The Crusades showed this. Instead, the allied lords collectively decide on the plan of campaign.

And having said that, you still need a good reason why becoming a vassal kingdom or just an ally of P would be a bad thing. Bear in mind for this that the worldview of medieval rulers had little concept of right and wrong, no rule of law, and no concept at all of what was best for the peasants. The whole "fighting the evil empire" fantasy thing is completely un-medieval, because from our perspective we can see that all medieval nobility were varying degrees of evil.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ "But we'll starve!" "You should have thought about that before you became PEASANTS!" ~The emperor's new groove $\endgroup$
    – Muuski
    Jul 3 '19 at 21:46
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your commentary on the lack of laws, disregard for the peasantry, etc. is not grounded in reality. If the ruler of a land does not protect & provide for his people, they will revolt, and most likely kill him, & his family. Or starvation/disease will ensue, which will affect the lord as well. There are a few famous historical examples of particularly cruel/careless leaders which are used to exemplify the brutality of the middle ages, however they were the exception. Sure, there was certainly no legal protection as we would see it today, but there were laws and customs, & arbiters of those laws. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 4 '19 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreiROM Sorry, but that's not reality. Yes, there were revolts - and almost all went the way you'd expect when badly-armed and untrained peasants go up against properly armed and trained soldiers. "Most likely" from history is that the revolting peasants are slaughtered out of hand. Laws and customs simply did not apply to lords or kings - only when the lords themselves rebelled against the king was there any chance of success. $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Jul 4 '19 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ You're creating a lot of false equivalences, and/or not reading my comments in full. "Yes, there were revolts - and almost all went the way you'd expect " <- the fact that a revolt was defeated, does not mean that the nobles affected did not lose resources, power, influence, titles, families, or their lives in the event (another noble may have to put down the revolt). I'd also like to point out that some very big revolts were, in fact, successful (ex: French Revolution, Soviet Revolution, etc. although these are more recent examples) 1/2 $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 4 '19 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ 2/2 "Laws and customs simply did not apply to lords or kings" <- I specifically mentioned that there existed "no legal protection as we would see it today". Yes, there was inequality, and there were double, or even triple standards. There's a reason why we now value equality under the law, and that reason is thousands of years of abuse. But if you think that a noble could literally do anything he wanted, you are mistaken. They were bound by rules and traditions on many levels, and the punishments for breaking them tended to be a lot more severe than they are in the West today. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 4 '19 at 17:33

The main concerns are:

Greater foe/ Politics: As you pick off the other kingdoms will they unite against you? Will they ally with the other large kingdom (you call it P) for defense against you, since you are the clear aggressor?

Time limit You are time limited before the big foe attacks you. Most of the benefits of taking the lands will take a long time to build value, recruiting new troops raising new taxes. If you can capture the foreign armies intact and turn them, this may be worth while if a few months, otherwise you need years for this strategy to be worth while. Also fighting time is limited to the summer months for most medieval kingdoms, because planting and harvesting use spring and fall.

Cost You will lose troops, and resources. Will what you gain make up for it?

Stability: If you conquer the areas will they stay loyal? How many troops will you gain, how many will need to spend their time putting down riots and rebellions?

The way this is most worthwhile if you can win very quickly, capture foreign forces intact, and if the major threat is coming very soon so that the rebellions will not happen till after the major threat arrives.

Some people would see the Austro-Prussian war as an example of this. Where Prussia through a mix of diplomacy, popular sentiment, and a bit of intimidation united many small German states into the modern state of Germany.But they didn't really conquer them one at a time.

If you would prefer straight conquest look at Napoleon's Conquests in Spain and Italy.

  • $\begingroup$ Napoleon was long after the medieval period. Also, though Italy was a straight victory for him, his "conquest" of the Iberian Peninsula (how he appointed a King of Spain is actually interesting and not necessarily military conquest) was short lived for exactly the reasons that prevent rulers from "unifying by conquest" (Spanish/Portuguese rebelled, with British backing, and pushed the French back). Or short version - Spain was the start of Napoleon's fall $\endgroup$
    – LinkBerest
    Jul 3 '19 at 11:57

I would say No

Every time you conquer one of the smaller kingdoms, you are committing your forces to battle against theirs. It isn't as simple as One Kingdom taking over the other Kingdom peacefully. If your take over a Kingdom with force there will be battles so instead of a simple 1+1=2 you will end up with something like 1+1 = 1.5 due to the deaths from resisting the conquest and the pass on effects this can have to civilian life and food supplies (War is a very expensive thing).

Once you have conquered all 6 kingdoms your total fighting force will be greatly diminished compared to what you originally had. P can now sweep through your weary armies and war torn lands and its easy pickings for them (especially if they were a risk against all 6 kingdoms in the first place).

The second part is Politics and Control. Not every Kingdom is highly united, and not all the Nobles or people in power will submit to your rule after you have conquered them. You may also face resistance from the people of a Kingdom, as you have just conquered them, slaughtered their Husbands, Brothers and Sons, and assumingly ransacked their treasury combining it with your own. It will take you a while to reestablish control over the Kingdom and each time you will need to devote a section of your army to maintain peace in the new lands you have gained while order is restored.

So while you are on your crusade, your main fighting force becomes smaller with each battle. You lose soldiers in the fights. You need to devote soldiers to a kingdom to maintain peace and control. If you had the power to conquer all 6 kingdoms, you might as well take your army and slaughter P straight away.

The assumed solution to such a situation is a combined Army under the command of a single assigned person. This can be done several ways. Diplomacy is your traditional approach. War games or even a tournament to find the best general. But there will be resistance. No Kingdom wants to lose any troops and you always need a front line which will take the brunt of the damage in a battle.

  • $\begingroup$ While 1+1 = 1.5 in terms of casualties, sometimes 1+1 = 3 in terms of combat effectiveness. With every victory your surviving soldiers and commanders on both sides gain experience that can make their smaller remaining numbers even more dangerous than the original poorly trained forces. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 5 '19 at 19:26

As the other answers have said, this is a risky and overall bad strategy, especially when forming an alliance through peaceful means is an option. It isn't uncommon for otherwise antagonistic nations to join together in response to a greater threat.

There is one circumstance in which this strategy would be worthwhile - if she is the most powerful ruler in the region and may be able to fight the predatory empire on her own, but she expects the other nations to join forces with said empire when it shows up, capturing their resources and technology and undermining their infrastructure before the more powerful enemy arrives, thereby rendering them impotent, may be worthwhile. This strategy makes more sense if the main strength of the other kingdoms is their resources (food, technology, fuel, animals, favorable terrain) and not their military might.

However, she should keep in mind that this will leave her with a lot of angry rebels in her kingdom who will be even more likely to join nation P when it comes knocking, so she'd better make sure that the benefit she gets from conquest greatly exceeds the cost of getting it.


This is a superb example of Game Theory, and explains many seemingly illogical decisions throughout history

Winston Churchill had to destroy their allied French fleet in their own harbour (they weighed the odds, and discovered this was their only option) killing almost two thousand allied sailors. The US had to invade Vietnam to contain communism (believe me, there were plenty of reasons to not invade). In WWI, countries that were previously allied suddenly became enemies, after reasonably weighing up all alternatives.

The primary issues can be explained through Game Theory. That is the study of decisions and strategy based on the premise that all parties behave rationally.

And this is the scariest part: Conflict is possible and indeed probable between friends given certain scenarios.

Your scenario comes essentially down to the following, all of which are elements in Game Theory:

  • What does each party know, and how does this affect their decision
  • What does each party not know, and do other parties know they don't know
  • Given what they do or do not know, what choice would give them the best chance of success (note: the word is chance). Ie. Which strategy would each adopt to give their best chance of success given they would be made in a reasonable manner, given information that they have available.

Too many answers here make the assumption that everyone would simply choose to work together. This should not be a given and is not historically accurate. The important point to note is: in an age where communication is slow, non-existent, or likely untrustworthy, you need to make a decision based on other peoples decisions in an environment in which nothing is certain.

So the scenarios that are possible, according to Game Theory, would be:

  • Cooperation or Competition: Do you choose to entreaty or to conquer. A simplistic choice, based on likelihood of success. To start with, you could investigate tit-for-tat, chicken or look at creating a nash equilibrium (like the current Nuclear deterrent strategy) that result from simple competition.

  • Symmetric or Asymmetric: Given not all parties have equal abilities, does this alter your strategy? How would smaller parties act that may frustrate or even defeat you. Perhaps the parties don't matter at all, and all you should consider is which strategy they will adopt.

  • Zero sum or non-zero sum: All or nothing theories are simple, but in reality, most people settle for trade-offs, or results that expand beyond the original situation. Is there a solution that is outside the boundaries of your situation?

  • Simultaneity: Sequence matters, you can play out scenarios based on outcomes, and make decisions along the way based on future decisions. Or: are all parties going to act at the same time, without knowing the other strategies?

  • Information games: Tsun Zhu was an advocate of this thinking, being or not-being trustworthy, or rather giving the impression of trustworthy or not (eg. signal theory), is important to consider. What information can you trust, what information can you put out there? This is the difference between Chess and Poker. In Chess you know everything. In Poker, you either give the impression you do, or not.

There are many more, but already the scenarios above give you ample material to explore the myriad situations and strategies that are considered especially when analysing conflict. But the basic principle is the same: Most leaders act rationally, and base their decisions on what they know and expect. Good Game Theorists are highly sought after.

So the answer is a resounding: YES. Invasion is a valid strategy. However like all good leaders, consider all the other possible game theory scenarios and see if there are any better strategies.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Nice in theory. Epic Fail in practice, because it assumes all the humans involved are acting rationally. Consider the residents of one of the kingdoms that has been conquered; they've just been beaten, they're presumably unhappy about it, and then from off in the distance comes someone else who is attacking your conquerors. A good portion of people will be happy about this and actively assist them. That this happens isn't theoretical: see what happened in World War II when the Nazis fought the Soviets, going both ways. $\endgroup$ Jul 3 '19 at 16:14

"Everyone else have to submit to the rule of me!" That is the basis of a lot of human anguish. When a rule obtains a position of power, it is very unlikely to submit to the rule of another. They would rather squabble for control rather than unite. In the end, it will only weaken the coalition, leading to the eventual conquest by "P"


The US annexes Canada in Fallout lore under the guise of fighting the communist invasion of Alaska. I'd have to assume we pillaged their oil sands along the way.

Alexander the Great conquered the entire world, but he won because he let them keep their religions and just taxed the crap out of everybody.

You're skipping the step as to why the upper echelon conquers things: money (ideally, not genocide), but you might as well be describing the Axis powers of WWII with a non-existent US (and a far less populous USSR).

If the Nazis had conquered Euroasia, what do you think would have eventually happened to Japan? Anything that doesn't kill you and makes you stronger is a viable strategy, up until the point when it's no longer needed and is now at odds with your 'solution'.


Not to say this is always a good idea, but the Macedonian Empire is one example where this worked very well. Alexander the great conquered Greece, then used the conquered peoples to bring down the much larger Persian Empire. So, what factors are important here?

1 - The people you conquer need to hate your common enemy more than they hate being conquered. This is no easy task, but if your 6 kingdoms view the P as being significantly more dangerous and untrustworthy then each other, than you can actually use that fear and hate to help unite the kingdoms after you conquer them.

2 - The people you conquer need to be bad at working together. 40,000 warriors united under one cause is better than 6 armies of 10,000 warriors who are each lead by generals who are trying to pull games to obtain superiority in the war's aftermath. If Kingdom A and Kingdom B need to attack an enemy army, and Kingdom B intentionally shows up late or only send 1/2 their soldiers to reduce their own casualties, then both armies could be lost in a battle that could have otherwise be won.

3 - The people you conquer need to be less militarily advanced than you. If you have better weapons, tactics, and training then you can not pass that on to untrustworthy allies. More allies with worse weapons and training can be much less effective than killing half of them, then making sure the other half are armed to the teeth when it comes time to fight the bigger empire.


This is almost exactly the situation of the Warring States period of Chinese history. The State of Qin conquered 6 other states, that all were not significantly weaker. The reason they were conquered is because Qin played them against each other: promising to split the lands of some nation with another nation, before turning on that nation. The only way to stop such a state would be to form an alliance of all six states, to concentrate their resources, instead of wasting their military resources on each other.


If your queen was really clever (and I mean this without any offence to your work), she'd restrain from conquering and forcing anyone to join her. It's much smarter to ask for an alliance and leave the kingdoms their freedom, convincing them working together (and for her) is in their best interest. Perhaps she could promise them parts of the enemy's territory or something.

Either way, if she conquers them, they'll only be motivated to get rid of her, not the enemy. They may even try working with the enemy. It's also important how they seceded in the first place: if it happened through conflict, the kingdoms may be enemies to each other and making them live and work together again will be a pain in the ass because they may turn against each other. If they seceded in peace, it's much safer to convince them form a union instead of risking they gang up on your queen.

Besides, that would be a waste of time an money, which is much more needed against the enemy.


The entire Cold War modern era is driven by this concept of conquering "buffer States" that then fight wars by proxy so the major powers don't have to fight themselves directly. This obviously wouldn't work in a Kingdom-State style ancient or medieval setting because individual principalities are too small to enforce the buffer.

If the main State involved was powerful enough then maybe it would work if they built an Empire, but that's a long term solution. In the near term the strategy would fail, the weaker States conquered would be even weaker by the conflict and possibly more likely to side with the "enemy of my enemy is my friend."


I would focus on two important aspects the kingdoms share a lot of their culture and that they are medieval kingdoms so lets assume they are feudal states.

This means she does not have to conquer and occupy the kingdoms (with associated loss of life and resources) but only make them her vassals. To force a king to bend a knee or if he is unwilling to replace him with willing relative or ambitious lord. In turn this means they apart of the king and his immediate family nobody have much incentive to die for their king or to organize resistance after he fell. And if the stake is vassalization then even the king and his family does not have much to loose besides pride.

The shared history and culture means the people of the kingdoms will see each other as people so it is conceivable to have customs of war that limit loos of life and resources. Basically expectation that clear looser yields, that victor takes prisoners and treats them well, that peasants are not slaughtered and fields not despoiled. This could means that if she manages to beat another king quickly she can take over most his resources without depleting hers too much.

The fact that role of a king is inherited and for life means that is conceivable that at least one other king is babe in diapers and other is old and infirm. The kid would have a regent with more or less skill and will to fight but the old one could refuse to give up the power without being able to do anything with that.

Next - the same reasons that prevent kingdoms to unit against P would also make it harder for the other kings to band against her.

Next as it was already said, marriage game and dynastic politics could play important role. If she can marry other king without loosing control then she could in one sweep double her power, and have a figurehead that may be more acceptable as suzerain for other kings. If she can not or do not want to marry that way, but already have children then she can merry them away converting potential enemy to staunch ally - one looking forward to inherit everything she conquer.

Finally there would be snowball effect, when she take over one kingdom she already have more power than any other alone. When she vasalize second one she is on equal level with alliance of all remaining. With four kingdoms under her control she can take on both of them at the same time and have good chance of winning. With last one remaining I would expect the king to yield and swear fealty when asked nicely.

As it was said the biggest threat is that somebody call for P before she can unify the kingdoms, but if there is a big cultural difference then the one that do may be labelled as traitor by everyone, and immediate outside intervention may mean that everybody falls in line behind strongest local player - her.

Summing up she should start with getting some allies diplomatically (or at least keep them neutral for a while), hit targets of opportunity if they show up, deal with the stronger contender first - assuming the weaker will yield if she have clear advantage, and try to get to 50%+ before her opponents organize themselves.


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