A strategy lesson from the ugliest woman in history

Margaret, the Duchess of Tyrol was born in Austria in 1318, her father was the Duke of Carinthia and Count of Tyrol. She was possibly one of the ugliest women who ever lived and yet still lived a life full of controversy and sexual liaisons.

She succeeded her father at the age of just 12, the same age at which she was married to her first husband, John Henry, who was just eight. Early marriages were common at the time to forge links between ruling families in Europe. John Henry was the son of King John of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic).

In 1335 the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV gave the lands of Carinthia to the Duke of Austria, breaking an agreement with Margaret’s father and removing part of her lands from her. After being cheated out of her inheritance she invaded Carinthia and attempted to capture it’s main castle, Castle Hochosterwitz.

As you can see from this picture, the castle is incredibly well protected by its high mountain position and the only hope for Margaret was to lay siege and wait for the defenders to run out of food and surrender.

When the defenders were down to their last ox and a few bags of corn they had almost no options left. They found an extraordinary strategy to enable them to survive the siege. Instead of keeping their last food they killed the ox, cut open its stomach and put the bags of corn inside. They then took the dead animal and threw it over the castle walls. The beast dropped down the cliff and landed in front of Margaret’s stunned soldiers. They had thought that their enemy was running out of food and would soon have to surrender. The only conclusion they could draw from seeing an ox tumbling down the mountainside from the castle was that the defenders still had plenty of food and that their siege would have to continue for many more months to be successful. They could not face the thought of this and abandoned their position. The castle had been successfully defended!

In game theory we have to consider the rewards and costs of any actions. By throwing away their last food the people trapped in the castle made their enemy miscalcuate the  position. It made them believe that they would have to wait much longer to win the battle and this would not be a price worth paying.

Your competition will make their decisions based on what they think the situation is, but they do not have all the information. If you can present them with a different view of the world then they may make a wrong decision.

A few years after the failed siege, in 1341, Margaret refused her husband entry to Castle Tyrol amid claims that he had never consummated the marriage. Looking at the picture of her above may explain the problem! Despite this she married again, just months later, before her divorce to her first husband had been granted. This caused a scandal across Europe and Margaret and her new husband were excommunicated by the Pope. She came under attack and her home, Castle Tyrol was laid siege to. Perhaps she had learned something from her earlier failure at Castle Hochosterwitz as the siege against her was unsuccessful.

Despite her appearance, during both her marriages Margaret openly conducted affairs with local peasants and rewarded them with land and titles.

She died in 1369 and was later used as the basis for the illustration of the Duchess in Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland.

Would you have fallen for the ox trick?

Should Margaret’s army have responded differently?

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