Saturday, 25 July 2015


In January 1494, Charles IX of France and his council decided to press his claim to the kingdom of Naples by force. Ambassadors were sent out to all the important Italian nations. The lazy Sixtus IX and the ambitious Livornois of Lucca replied favourably, the other equivocated or were hostile. Ferrrant II of Naples was persuaded to await more reliable reports before taking action. His allies, the Spanish, warned Charles that they will protect their interests in Italy. The reply angered but does not particularly concern Charles.

In February, resistance to French plans from small Italian states started to grow, with Modena and Savoy to the fore. Charles threatened to reduce their palaces to rubble and their families to penury, but his position was poor, as, with the exception of Saluzzo, the mountain passes were closed and much of northern Italy hostile. Ferrante, however, still dithered, although he was aware of the French mustering a siege train.

The French army mustered in Provence in March, and the King joined it in the middle of the month. Ridolfi of Modena tried to rally the Italian states to oppose him, but only Savoy, Mantua and Florence joined. Given that Ludovicio of Florence had already joined the French side, his agreement was somewhat surprising. Nevertheless, the Medici started to recruit condotta. The Savoyard garrisons are alerted.

The French moved into Saluzzo in April, but paused there. Sforza joined the anti-French coalition but made no further move at present. Manuta and Modena started to raise a joint army to defend their territories, but troops are slow to come in.

At the beginning of May the French invaded Savoy. The Savoyard garrison at Monte Carlo surrendered at their approach. Both Bernard of Savoy and Luis of Montferrat refused alliance with the French. After a consolidating pause, the French moved on to Genoa. Charles’ initial demand for passage was ignored, but the city surrendered quickly enough when the French siege battery was established against it. Not wishing to be deflected from his grand plan, Charles extracted only an alliance from the city. He now stood on the border of Modena.

The French crossed the border, and the Duke of Modena fled. The city surrendered in June. Sforza, however, attempted to build another anti-French alliance which both Bernard of Savoy and Ferrante joined. Milan and Naples both started to muster armies, but again, troops were slow to come in.

Ambassadors from Ferrante reached the Holy Roman Empire in July. Maximillian looked favourably on the idea of intervening, but for the moment made no move. Charles moved from Modena through the Papal States. Medici declared for the Italians and also moved into the Papal States, via Urbino, to cut Charles’ communications in Romagna. He also let Ridolfi and his half-formed army return to Modena to continue recruiting. At an emergency meeting of the Papal council, the Cardinals agreed to raise an army to defend the territory. They also called upon Charles to defend the integrity of the Papal States. Charles agreed, but actually intended to continue to the destruction of Naples.

At the beginning of August the Pope excommunicated the Medici for invading the Papal States. Ferrante appealed to both Span and the Empire for help, finally being convinced that Charles had designs on his state. The Spanish crown did not respond, and their viceroy in Sicily could not move without royal sanction.  Both the Neapolitan and Modenese-Mantuan armies had mustered, and resistance to Charles was growing. He advanced into Aquila. Maximillian is concerned at the French invasion of Naples, but could offer little practical help.

In early September a confusing set of manoeuvres left Medici back in Florence while Ridolfi overran Lucca, a French ally.  Further north, Bernard of Savoy retook the province hand bullied Genoa into repudiating its French alliance. Medici then moved on Sienna, intent on capitalising on the confusion. Charles’ drive on Naples continued. Moving down Italy’s western coast he encountered Ferrante’s small army entrenched across the road. Some hard fighting saw the French gendarmes outflank the position and the Swiss punch through it. Ferrante, leading a counterattack, was unhorsed, and his army fled (Battle of Mondragone, 28th September 1494). Charles entered Naples in triumph while the Neapolitan army disintegrated and Ferrante fled to Sicily.

As Charles consolidated his hold on Naples, both Cordoba in Sicily and Ferdinand and Isabella realised the threat to Spanish interests. Cordoba had already started to land in Reggio when authorisation arrived, and Spain started to muster a siege train. Ferrante, his nerve restored, started to collect another army. In the north, Bernard of Savoy entered Saluzzo, forcing the duke to flee to France, while Medici entered Piombino.

I ran across the above account of a campaign in what I am pleased to describe as my ‘archive’. In fact, it was scrawled in an exercise book, with the neat account reproduced above on a separate sheet of paper. In fact, there was also a more detailed account of the Battle of Mondragone on another sheet. However, the campaign seems to have ground to a halt in October 1494, and I vaguely recall that I was starting to have difficulty in keeping track pf all the different people, decisions and, in particular, the ambassadors and news that was starting to fly around Europe.

My campaign diary was in weeks, and I had to start with things like ‘news of invasion arrives Spain week 7’ and then remember, in week 7, to check how the news was received in the Spanish court. I seem to remember that responses were governed by a card draw, a heart being required for a response. A die roll determined how long a decision took, and so on. It all became a bit complicated. I also had accounts for each state, army lists for what was being mustered, and, for example, the French army suffered significant casualties among its Swiss pikes at the battle. And so another promising campaign was abandoned.

But I am starting to wonder whether, with the application of a little information technology, something similar could not be attempted. On the other hand, do I want to spend all my wargaming time sitting in front of a computer?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

More Leisurely Wargaming

According to Sarah Broadie (‘Taking Stock of Leisure’ in Aristotle and Beyond (Cambridge: CUP, 2007)) human selves are essentially practical agents. That is we put a lot of effort into making practical decisions and achieving practical things. We have to deal with the practical necessities first, in order to survive. After all, the first of Douglas Adams’ questions in the scale of civilization was ‘What shall we eat?’

However, Broadie also points out that human selves are essentially much more than practical. In her example, consider what food would be like if the only point of it was to fulfil a biological need. Animals, in general, do not cook; they do not add ingredients together.  Our cat occasionally eats a mouthful or two of cat food, and then turns to the dried stuff. But that is hardly cooking or fine dining. And yet almost no human food consumption consists of something that has been processed, either by the consumer or by someone else, into something that is not the original product. Even if the food is, say, a salad, which does not need much in the way of preparation, it has still been arranged, flavoured, considered in its combination with other food and so on.

Furthermore, consider what the world would be like if we had only practical knowledge. Our knowledge would be patchy, superficial, incoherent and inconsistent if we simply stuck to the practical. In Bernard Lonergan’s realms of meaning, the common sense world (which is roughly equivalent to Braodie’s practical one) is the world we live in most of the time, but our ideas and insights about it are only completed by the concrete problem before us. For example, turning some patchwork into cushion cover is a practical problem. I asked someone (whom I regard as an expert needle-person) how they did it, and they looked at the piece puzzled. ‘I can show you,’ they said eventually, ‘but I cannot tell you.’

Practical knowledge, therefore, is patchy, reliant on unstated assumptions, and cannot wait for adequate reasoning to emerge. This is how most of life is lived. How I decide between two different flavours of marmalade in a supermarket is not (usually) a product of abstract reasoning. It might be guided by some reasons, such as price, supply, whether I like lumpy or smooth marmalade, and so on, but the decision is not a rational one, but a practical one. I take that jar, and move on to the next thing.

Leisure is different, Broadie suggests. We go with the flow of an activity or subject matter. It has its own standards of excellence, its own agenda of questions and challenges. We can aim, in our leisure time, for perfection, or at least, something beyond the simple ‘good enough’ of our everyday existence. These activities can deliver improvements in quality of life, in human welfare, and even generate new industries and practical concerns.

Leisure, then, is something that is supported by practical agency, which supplies the necessities of life. But leisure itself should be construed as one of those necessities; otherwise we would never get beyond eating lettuce. There must be a balance between the obtaining of practical necessities, using the practical human agency, and the leisure activities which may, in due course, improve life. Leisure is to do with the sublime, the beautiful, the interesting or the adventurous. Society should support these activities.

Within leisure, then, there are activities which turn their backs on the everyday. These sorts of things might include the study of stars, abstract sciences, mathematics, philosophies, music and so on. The aim of these is not to obtain a practical end. We cannot travel to the stars. Most abstract mathematics does not find a practical use for a generation or two, and when it does it is usually in another abstract science, such as general relativity.

As an alternative, there are leisure activities which are about something. They re-enact, celebrate or comment on something. For example, a play might comment on current events, even though it is set in the distant past. An example of that would be Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is, in part, a comment on the origins and longevity of the Stuart kings. Terribly diplomatic, that Shakespeare, you know. Other aspects of the practical world can be incorporated. Sport, for example, could be interpreted on this view as taking its theme from conflict. The decathlon, for example, is claimed to be based on the skills that a messenger in wartime would need in Ancient Greece. I am not arguing for the veracity of that claim, but for how the idea is thematised within the sport itself.

Wargaming, as I am sure you will have deduced by now, falls into the second camp. It comments on, re-enacts, and celebrates events in history. If it is objected that some form of wargaming do not do this, such as science fiction, my only reply is that most science fiction is, in fact, a comment on the present day. The themes of the latter, are extended, taken to extremes and then worked out in a form which does comment on the here and now.

Wargames, then, take a target, that is warfare, and attempt to comment on and re-enact the event. In doing so we aim to understand something of what happened, or what might have happened, or what could have happened. We might not consciously do this, because much wargaming is simply sticking toy soldiers down on a table and pushing them around. But if we have done our painting properly, if the rules are in any way an attempt at being realistic, then the whole activity is an imaginative exploration or a narrative space, whether or not the wargame itself is based around historical events. That exploration is therefore, at some level, an exploration of human potential, or contingency, of our own actions and reactions in a given place and time which is set apart from the normal requirements of human necessity.

And, therefore, O gentle readers, I put it to you that wargaming is a leisure activity of the highest standing.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Wargaming Leisure

For most of us, wargaming is a leisure activity, a hobby, something which is chosen to indulge in, rather than being something required, ordained or made necessary.  There is a distinction here between what is necessary and what is chosen. It is (sadly) necessary for me to get out of bed from time to time and go to work. Not to do so would, eventually, have undesirable consequences, such as my work not being done, being rendered unemployed, unable to feed my family and so on.  However, I choose to get out of bed. There may be some constraints to persuade me that getting out of bed is a good idea, but (assuming that humans do have some sort of free will) I do choose a particular course of action.

What, however, do we make of leisure activities? I am not constrained to do them, by definition. A leisure activity is something which we choose to indulge in. if this were not the case, it becomes work, possibly drudgery. But a freely chosen leisure activity is, almost by consequence of that set up, something that we choose which, we think and believe, is a good for us. Our leisure activity might not, of course, ultimately turn out to be good for us. Our whiter water raft might capsize and we might drown, or a mountain yak might push us off a Himalaya to our detriment, but nevertheless, we chose that activity because we believe in its good for us.

Given that we are not all the same, our choices of leisure activity vary. Some people seem to find riding bicycles up hills with gritted teeth and sweat by the bucket load a pleasurable activity. I can only imagine that the pleasure here is in looking back and thinking ‘I’ve done it’, but who am I to criticise someone else’s leisure activity? I can only, by definition of the term leisure activity, assume that they enjoy it somehow.

Nevertheless, humans are fairly practical people. In our work we are often presented with practical problems which we respond to with a plan, a course of action, and some activity such as laying bricks or writing computer programs. One of the hall-marks of this sort of activity is a certain degree of efficiency. My line manager is perfectly happy to see some scrawl on my desk which does contain a plan, the kernel of an idea or something of that sort, even though a doodle would probably make them suspicious that I am not really doing anything.

But the project, the plan, the efficient execution is not really a part of leisure activity as leisure. It might, indeed, be part so such an activity, but it is not the point of it. Leisure activity is a point in its own content. There is (or, perhaps should be) no point to the leisure activity except that it is an leisure activity. It is an end in itself.

Thus, I might have (and, in fact, do have) a plan for my wargaming in the short, medium and / or long term. I am painting armies. I plan to have wargames. The armies are of such a type, the wargames are between such forces, and so on. The point here, surely, is that as these plans refer solely to my leisure activity, no-one is going to get hurt, grumble or throw a wobbly at me if they are not done. The plan is a plan but it is not a serious plan. The fate of millions (no matter what my wargaming megalomania might suggest otherwise) is not in the balance according to whether I complete this next base of Thracians or not. Which is just as well, as work on the Thracians has stalled a bit.

Wargaming, however, is something of a creative activity. Something is created by our efforts in our leisure. If we have a wargame, the creation is a wargame, a narrative, a series of connected events. The events are connected, and connected to us, by our decision making processes. This process might depend on plans (formal or informal) but is also completed in the concrete, the wargame itself. A wargame throws at us a series of decisions we have to make to move it forward. That move, of course, might well (and probably is) driven by a pre-existing context. For example, a mile wide cavalry unit belonging to my enemy might just have appeared over the hill. This context drives my decision to, say, concede that the game is lost.

In some senses, that decision making context is the same as my need to remove myself from my slumbers and do some commuting, but in another sense it would be different, because the drivers for making the decision are different.  In leisure activity, no-one would mind too much if I failed to make a decision, or, indeed, made the wrong one to the detriment of my army. In real life it might matter rather more, unless you are a highly paid bank executive in which case they simply increase you bonus the more bad decisions you make.

We can, of course, in a leisure context, simply make a decision arbitrarily. I can attempt to turn my grand battery to pound those horsemen, just to see what happened. I might even get away with it and blow them away while the rest of my army is busy winning the battle elsewhere. The point here is surely that my decision does not have that great an impact on the real world; it can be treated as something of a thought-experiment. No people or horses were, in fact, hurt in the preparation of this post.

So wargaming as a leisure activity actually has no point at all. And that is the point of it. If everything humans did had a point we would all be workaholics and very, very, boring. But perhaps we do need other activities as well. After all, someone who had an infinite quantity of leisure time and spent it wargaming might, in due course, be regarded even by fellow wargamers as being a bit dull.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Intellectual History

It is possible that I am simply going to repeat myself, or at least state things which most people would say ‘Of course’ to. On the other hand, sometimes stating the blinking obvious is a good thing to do.

I suppose the first thing I want to suggest is that things, generally, go in fashions. There might be, for example, a fashion dressing your soldiers up in fancy red uniforms to march into battle. There might not, in fact, be any particularly good or bad reason for doing this. It might be that red is a martial colour in your culture, and thus seems to be a good option for trying to instil some valour, ardour or some such into the troops. Your enemy might have a different culture, wherein, say, red is the colour of cowardice and blue is that of valour. They might, thus, be very willing to attack your red clad troops, but flee from the odd blue bedecked regiment of cavalry that you have permitted just for a spot of variation.

Fashions, however, change. These changes can be brought about by a variety of causes. For example, a fair bit of European army kit changed when those armies were fighting in places that were not Europe. Light infantry, irregulars, and different sorts of swords and so on were all incorporated into military equipment and tactics as a result of experience beyond the home shores of the culture.  This is, of course, not unique. The Romans pinched their sword from the Spanish, after all.

Fashions are more than simply in dress, equipment or tactics. I have very briefly tried to suggest that ideas have an impact on how warfare is conducted. The particular example I had in mind was the ‘star’ fortress style, particularly associated with Vauban but used extensively before then. The idea is of course usually explained fairly simply as a response to the increased firepower of cannon in besieging armies. The instrumental requirements of a form of fortification which could resist cannon fire more effectively led designers to build lower walls, packed with earth, and with open fields of fire. A round tower simply could not match the modern fortress in ability to block the attackers and blunt their force.

Except, of course, that often old style castles could, and did, resist modern siege weapons. One problem, at least, facing would be besiegers, was that of actually getting the siege weapons into place. This was a huge logistical problem. Once arrived, there was the problem of siting the weapons so they could be effective and, of course, of ensuring the supply of the besiegers, in terms of food, water, weapons and men. A siege of even a simply medieval style castle was no joke, as some of the problems encountered in the English Civil war demonstrate.

But another issue in the design of castles must have been that of the intellectual changes brought about by the renaissance. While medieval castle builders did, indeed, use mathematics to calculate, for example, how many steps were needed in a spiral staircase, star style fortresses needed some more advanced ideas about geometry. Indeed, if these were not forthcoming, there arose some slightly odd shapes. For example, the defences of Berwick on Tweed are irregular. This might be due to the lie of the land, to the inadequacy of surveying or to someone who was a bit dangerous to let loose with a compass and set square. Of course, one might suggest to Her Majesty that that was how it was meant to be all along, and it is perhaps fortunate that the defences were never seriously tested, but the idea was there of something pleasingly geometric in shape, and that comes from the interest in mathematics of the renaissance.

Of course, warfare is not the only place where one sees this. Galileo was interested in geometry, and there is evidence that his concepts were based on the idea of geometry. Spinoza, too, thought geometrically, as least, insofar as his Ethics is written like a geometry text book. Euclid was viewed as the ultimate in comprehensive proof, and people attempted to emulate him. The idea of geometry, thus, permeates a fair bit of intellectual culture in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and it would be a rash historian indeed who suggested that it did not affect military theory and practice.

We can possibly push on a little further with this notion. The military text books of the day were rather obsessed with order and geometry, with nice diagrams explaining how to array a certain number of men in blocks so many deep and thus how wide they should be. Montecuccoli, for example, suggests an octagonal infantry battalion at one point, for battalions at the ends of the battle line. This is a sophisticated sort of formation, and it indicates, from the text, that he is interested in geometry, and would seem to me to need seriously trained soldiers to carry it out without getting into severe disarray.

The point is that Montecuccoli, as a theoretician as well as a general, we thinking geometrically, as part of the culture in which he was educated. To think geometrically is simply to be part of the intellectual culture of the day. That is not to say it was used uncritically, although that accusation could be aimed at some of the text books. It was simply part of how things were thought about.

There were reverse influences, as well. Asking a theoretician to design a fortress could have impact on the development of mathematics, geometry and architecture. I seem to recall that Durer was one such, although I think he pre-dated the star style fortress. Nevertheless, he can be seen as a transitional figure, designing shorter, stubby towers packed with earth to resist cannon fire, an idea taken up by Henry VIII in the defence of English shores.

I was going to start talking about the influence of ideas on tactics, such as the caracole, but I am starting to think that this piece is both long enough and both arguable enough and not radical enough, so I shall have to leave it there and return to the Curious Case of the Caracole another time.