The "fleeting world" of strategical alliances during the Sengoku era is well-worth an ukiyo-e post with a bit of historical nuances.
Even someone like Nobunaga, regularly painted as a snappy old fox when it came to the matter, was quite aware of how frail the loyalty of allies, retainers and commoners was and how hard it was to keep everything in check.
But despite this basic awareness, even Nobunaga had to face some shocking betrayals in his life, betrayals that posed serious threats to his plans for unification, and at the same time left him completely dumbfounded because they came from people whom he had a total faith in.
We don't know if it ever ruined the capacity to trust of Nobunaga, after all he came from a family where even his little brother and his mother tried to "take him out", so we're keen to believe that he was kinda used to such things by now, but from the vicious and violent reactions that such betrayals provoked, we can imagine Nobunaga's levels of disappointment.
To illustrate this post, I picked ukiyo-e from the collection "Taiheiki Eiyuden" ("Heroes of the Great Peace"), your classic theme of samurai prints, by artist Ochiai Yoshiiku (1833–1904).
The collection of prints was released in 1867.
I was lucky to find all the required characters for this post in the same collection, so I thought of killing two birds with one stone.
The Azai were the governors of the Omi Province, located at the East of Lake Biwa. Nagamasa got in control of the clan in 1560, when his father, Hisamasa, was forced to retire by his retainers, in favour of his bright son.
The alliance with the Oda would start in 1564, as Nobunaga saw in the promising youth (Nagamasa was just 19 years old at the time) a formidable ally against the Saito, now ruled by the caustic Tatsuoki; for this reason, Nobunaga gave him the hand of his precious little sister, Oichi, as a seal of their reciprocal support through a political marriage.
And things went quite well between the two, there are evidences of reciprocal admiration from both parties, so that probably Nobunaga thought that he gained a second Ieyasu on the Northern front of his province.
Though, on his task to protect Kyoto and keep in place that pest of shogun Yoshiaki, Nobunaga had to attack the Asakura clan, lords of Echizen Province, neighbours of the Azai and their long-time allies.
It's not clear how things went in the clan, it's generally assumed that Nagamasa wanted to keep himself neutral, but his father and senior retainers forced him to keep his words with the Asakura, but long story short during the Siege of Kanegasaki (1570), Nobunaga had to face the surprise attack from the rear by the Azai, led by Nagamasa.
It's said that when word of Azai's betrayal came to Nobunaga's ears, he dismissed the fact as a lie, refusing to believe it.
Here's how the event is recorded on "The Chronicles of Lord Nobunaga": "Nobunaga crossed the Kinome Pass, but as he was to break through into the heartland of Echizen, reports started coming in one after another that Azai Bizen [Nagamasa] of northern Omi had turned against him. Obviously, Azai was Nobunaga's brother-in-law. Not only that, Nobunaga had assigned northern Omi to him without reservations. As Azai had no reason for dissatisfaction, Nobunaga thought this to be a false rumor, but from all sides it was reported to be true. "What is done is done," Nobunaga concluded."
The turn of events that will follow the betrayal of Nagamasa is quite popular and it's been highly dramaticized in every media: in 1574, at the banquet in Gifu Castle to celebrate the new year, Nobunaga presented to his vassals an "yet unheard-of appetizers": the heads of Azai Nagamasa, Azai Hisamasa and Asakura Yoshikage "lacquered in gilt, [...] as a relish to the saké".
Gyuichi reports that Nobunaga was "exhilarated".
Matsunaga entered the picture in 1568, when Nobunaga entered Kyoto, acting as a proxy of Ashikaga Yoshiaki who was on his quest to regain his role as shogun: realizing the danger, the old fox Matsunaga decided to surrender to Nobunaga, thus keeping his lands in Yamato Province.
As a further act of goodwill and submission, Matsunaga presented Nobunaga with the renowed tea-caddy Tsukumogami.
Matsunaga was famous for being a schemer and an individual with a merciless personality. Infamous his burning of the Great Buddha Hall of the Todai-ji in 1566, an act (or a rumor?) that marked him as a true villain in the whole province.
Yet Nobunaga appreciated his shrewdness, expecially as Matsunaga proved his worth against the Azai and Asakura and against his former allies, the Miyoshi of Awa Province.
The "first" betrayal of Matsunaga dated 1573, when he conspired with the Miyoshi against Nobunaga. This alliance didn't last much, though, both Hisahide and his son Hisamichi capitulated on the winter on the next year. Nobunaga pardoned him and Matsunaga went to Gifu to show his submission, presenting him with a famous sword, Fudō Kuniyuki.
The second, severe betrayal, surfaced in 1577.
Here's the report from the "Chronicles": "Nobunaga had stationed Matsunaga Danjo [Hisahide] and his son Uemon no Suke [Hisamichi] in the permanent garrison of Tennoji, one of the forts that counterposed Ozaka. But on the 17th of the Eight Month, the two rebelled against Nobunaga, left their positions in that stronghold, and entrenched themselves in Shigi Castle in Yamato Province.
"What is your complaint?" Nobunaga inquired through Kunaikyo no Hoin [Matsui Yukan], promising the Matsunaga that he would see to their wishes, if only they told him what was on their minds. But treachery ran so deep with the Matsunaga that they did not come forward."
This would lead to Nobunaga taking action by executing the hostages sent by the Matsunaga, two children left in custody of Sakuma Iekatsu. Their death was "such a pitiful sight that one could not bear to look at".
This followed the attack on Shigi Castle, led by Nobutada, Nobunaga's son, and supported by Sakuma, Hideyoshi, Mitsuhide and Nagahide.
The result of the assault was that "the Matsunaga set the castle tower alight and perished in the fire"; in fact "Matsunaga, who had always been known as an astute man, took the only way out", "he threw himself into the raging fire".
The commenters of the time, reminiscing that "The Great Buddha Hall in Nara had also gone up in flames on the evening of the 10th of the Tenth Month", couldn't help but see the work of "the Shining Deity of Kasuga" in action.
In another version of the story, as portrayed in the print above, Nobunaga sent his vassals to discuss things with Matsunaga, looking for a way to fix their relationship. As an act of goodwill, Nobunaga requested out of Matsunaga another precious item, the famed Hiragumo tea kettle.
Laughing at Nobunaga's greed even in such a situation, Matsunaga destroyed the precious item and then killed himself, ordering for his remains to be destroyed through fire so that Nobunaga wouldn't get his tea keetle nor his head.
Originally a vassal of the Ikeda Clan from Settsu, Murashige entered the picture once he managed to take control of the province after he revolted against his former lord, Ikeda Katsumasa, taking control of his castle in 1570.
Murashige became a direct vassal of Nobunaga, who recognized his rule in both Settsu and Itami Provinces, after he deserted Yoshiaki's side. It was 1573, and "to say that Nobunaga was delighted would be an understatement".
There's a legend about Araki entering Nobunaga's service, and the print above refers to this fact.
Aware of Araki's betrayal of both the Ikeda, Miyoshi and Yoshiaki, who were his former lords, Nobunaga tested Murashige's trust and grit by forcing him to eat rice paddies directly from the blade of his words after threatening him with it. It's said that Murashige obeyed promptly, surprising the other retainers for his fierceness.
Things went well for a while despite a failure every now and then, but on 1578 "reports came from all sides that Araki was plotting treason".
The "Chronicles" reported it like this: "Nobunaga found it hard to believe.
"What is your grievance?" Nobunaga inquired through Kunaikyo no Hoin, Koreto Hyuga no Kami [Akechi Mitsuhide], and Manmi Senchiyo, promising Araki to see to his wishes, if only he said what was on his mind. The envoys reported back from Araki that he had no disloyal ambitions whatsoever. Glad to hear that, Nobunaga commanded him to send his mother as a hostage to Kyoto and to present himself, if nothing was wrong. But Araki did not make an appearance, because he had indeed rebelled."
It's interesting to see that, on contrary of previous events, here Nobunaga tried further reconciliations, "using Koreto Hyuga no Kami, Hashiba Chikuzen [Hashiba Hideyoshi] and Kunaikyo no Hoin as his intermediaries. Araki, however, was not receptive to these initiatives".
As reports about Murashige joining the warrior monks of Honganji started to get more and more insisting, Nobunaga was only left with the option of punishment.
In the next months, former allies, sworn brothers and retainers started to leave Murashige's side, realizing the inevitable.
The massacres of the hostages of Amagasaki and Hanakuma took place in 1579: "more that 510 persons in all" (most of them women and children) were burned alive, beheaded or crucified, the wives and children of the men "of the sort who had held their heads high in Settsu province" were rounded up and crucified, while Araki's kin was put to death in Kyoto as an example to renegades.
"This horrendous punishment meted out by Nobunaga had no precedent from antiquity to the present day".
--But what about Murashige, you ask? He fled the castle with his men before the massacre, taking refuge in a branch of the Honganji in Kyoto first, and in Mouri's territory later.
He became a lay-monk, going by the name of "Doukun", as a disciple of the famed tea master Sen no Rikyu. He took service under Hideyoshi for a while as a master of tea ceremony before "falling from grace" with his lord because of his loathe for Takayama Ukon, at the time one of Hideyoshi's key vassals.
He met his death in 1586.
Who was Akechi Mitsuhide, and how did he meet Nobunaga's grace?
Originally a senior retainer of Saito Dosan (Nobunaga's father-in-law), he abandoned the clan after the death of his lord by Tatsuoki's hands.
He was sheltered by the clan on his mother's side, the Takeda clan of Wakasa, and then served the Asakura clan of Echizen Province.
During the disturbances involving the Ashikaga shogunate in 1566, Asakura Yoshikage sent Mitsuhide over to Yoshiaki to act as his proxy.
As the Asakura procrastinated the march on Kyoto, though, Yoshiaki asked Mitsuhide to mediate with Nobunaga instead.
It's plausible to suppose that Mitsuhide entered Nobunaga's service in 1570. In the "Chronicles", after his brief apparition in service of Yoshiaki (1569), he's mentioned again in 1570, gathering hostages from the Mutou clan under Nobunaga's orders after the retreat from the Battle of Kanegasaki, the one that saw Nagamasa's betrayal.
Despite being a recent acquisition in Nobunaga's crew, Mitsuhide was granted castles and provinces for his feats quite instantly, and his talents as a warrior and administrator were well-regarded by his lord.
On the eve of his fateful betrayal in 1582, he was one of Nobunaga's key vassals and one of the most influential voices in his circle.
Many theories, more or less acceptable, have been released to try to explain the reasons for this shocking betrayal, but all we have is the brief description of those convulsive moments after Akechi made up his mind to "kill Nobunaga and make himself the master of the Realm" from our "Chronicles": "In no time at all, the enemy surrounded the Honnoji, the temple where Lord Nobunaga was staying, and came bursting in tumultuously from all four sides. At first both Nobunaga and his pages thought that a passing quarrel had broken among the lower orders, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. The enemy raised the battle cry and blasted Nobunaga's residential quarters with their guns. "This is treason!" Nobunaga stated "Whose plot is it?" "They look like Akechi's men" Mori Ran replied. Nobunaga's response was, "What's done is done"".
Sure the events were so quick that we can't expect a deeper reaction out of Nobunaga, but it's worth noting that it's the same words pronounced after Azai's betrayal.
All in all to suffer "only" four betrayals in a life of conquests and struggles may look like not such a big deal.
But the emotion behind Nobunaga's reactions, his pity, his cruelty and his shock, sure are indicative of the genuine feelings of this man for his allies and retainers and that, yeah, even a "Demon Lord" could trust someone.