Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Nine Years War

As threatened, or possibly promised, this is a bit more of a review type thing of

O'Neill, J., The Nine Years War 1593-1603: O'Neill, Mountjoy and the Military Revolution (Dublin: Four Courts, 2017).

I have already ruminated on the first chapter, the introduction, and why military history is regarded, at best, as an irrelevance and, at worst, with some hostility by the historical academy. This is just something that, as wargamers, amateur military historians or whatever we just have to live with. It must be a little harder if you are actually an academic military historian.

The bulk of the book is concerned with developing a narrative and explanation of the Nine Years War, or Tyrone rebellion. Quite a lot of this is a narrative of the wars, with some analysis thrown in along the way. For example, Tyrone’s strategy is both narrated and explained. Instead of seeking the glory of combat in battle (as, say, Essex did), he sought to win the war. This included misdirecting the English armies as to where he was going to strike. A minor attack was put in, the English sent a relief or punitive expedition, and Tyrone struck elsewhere with his main force. It took the English a significant amount of time to get their heads around this.

O’Neill suggests that this intellectual tardiness by the English high command was due to the fact that Tyrone was fighting a very different kind of war. Instead of a rebellion, to try to cast off the foreign yoke, obtain better conditions or settle grievances, Tyrone was trying to unite Ireland and change sovereignty from Elizabeth of England to Phillip of Spain. Therefore he needed the support of a wider section of Irish society than previous rebellions had even imagined.

As with earlier conflicts on the European scene, a lot of the subsequent action revolved around ‘good lordship’, that is, the ability of the over-lord to protect his minions. If it was shown that the English could not protect their allied Irish lords, then those lords were likely, by ‘choice’ or coercion, to defect to Tyrone. By 1599, due to a fair bit of English ineptitude, Tyrone’s strategy and cunning, and a bit of support from Spain and Scottish merchants selling gunpowder, Tyrone had control of more or less all of Ireland. English rule, or even presence, seemed to be hanging by a thread.

From Tyrone’s point of view, of course, it all went horribly wrong. By 1603 he had lost, and he was forced to submit to Elizabeth (or, fortunately for him, he in fact submitted to James, who he had never technically rebelled against. How did this happen?

The answer seems to lie in two or three factors. Firstly, English logistical might was deployed against Tyrone. England is simply a bigger country with a bigger population. Ireland was already showing the strain of a lengthy war and consequent taxation. When the English government decided to deploy more resources, the Irish had little left to answer with.

Secondly, Mountjoy was a very good viceroy of Ireland and used Irish deception strategy against them. Further, he also used English naval superiority to firstly, interdict the supply of arms and powder from Scotland and Spain, and secondly to mount seaborne operations against Tyrone’s heartlands in Ulster. Up to that point, Ulster had been a fairly secure base from which Tyrone could operate. While in previous years the English had considered and planned operations by sea, it was only in 1600 that they got around to it. Tyrone had to divert resources to defend his own lands, something which in previous years he had forced to English to do.

The third factor was Spanish support. This was often promised and even organised but had not arrived in significant quantities. While contact with Spain, initially through shipwrecked officers from Armada ships in 1588 had assisted in Tyrone’s rebellion and given modern training to Irish troops, subsequent support had been rather in dribs and drabs – gunpowder, arms, bishops and diplomacy, plus a few military officers. In 1601 the Spanish landed at Kinsale in some force and were besieged by the English. As we know, Tyrone’s relieving army was defeated, the Spanish surrendered and Tyrone’s victorious mystique was shattered.

O’Neill considers the war in a broader context. Firstly, he notes that it was not much more ferocious than comparable European wars. The main point of reference is the Dutch revolt; after all, the Dutch were attempting to changing monarch as well, although they did not have a strong a candidate for the new monarch as Tyrone.  That war was one of small-scale actions, ambushes and raiding, as well. The damage caused and civilian casualties were comparable. O’Neill detects little in the way of religious or ethnic hatred in the Tyrone wars.

Secondly, O’Neill considers that Tyrone had militarily revolutionised to Irish troops by 1593. One or two initial actions, admittedly, involved traditional gallowglass and kern troops, but O’Neill considers that this was deception by Tyrone, to conceal how modernised his main army in fact was. Tyrone’s army was a shot heavy pike and shot army of the period, although, with reference to the enemy and terrain, there were some differences.

The main difference between the English and Irish was in terms of pike. The English used pike conventionally, and an armoured strike force. The Irish used pike defensively, in a rather looser order, to counter the English cavalry. Most of the fighting by the Irish was done by shot, skirmishing in small groups; keeping up what I suppose could be called a heavy harassing fire on English troop concentrations.

Irish horse do not seem to have been ‘modernised’, for rather unclear reasons, possibly related to their more noble status and Tyrone’s proportionately lower influence over them. They adopted pistols but were still not a match for their English counterparts. The only troops Tyrone really feared was the English demi-lancer. Hence the deployment of Irish pike.


How would I summarise this? It is a good book, and I recommend anyone interested to read it. However, be warned: for me, it took more or less everything I thought I knew about the Tyrone rebellion and turned it on its head. And now I have to find some loose order pike to create by Irish army….

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Command of the Ocean

There are, perhaps, three villains of the second volume of Rodger’s naval history of Britain:

Rodger, N. A. M., The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815 (London: Penguin, 2004).

The first of these is Napoleon Bonaparte, the second is Lord Howe and the third, perhaps surprisingly given the date range of the book, is Henry VIII.

To start in the middle with Lord Howe is probably the easiest. Howe practically destroyed the functioning of the British naval bases and supply system. For all his abilities as an admiral, he was convinced that there was extensive corruption in the naval logistics and supply system. Anywhere in early modern Europe, if you looked for corruption, you could usually find it. Howe, of course, was no exception. For example, Rodger explains how Howe demanded a certain quality of timber from suppliers and rejected shipments that did not reach that level. This was unfair, as, of course, timber comes from trees and trees grow naturally. Thus a certain quality of timber cannot be guaranteed – there is always going to be some variation. Nevertheless, Howe thought this was corrupt and rejected ‘substandard’ timber, with the result that contractors refused to supply and the naval dockyard’s careful garnering and storage of timber of repairs and shipbuilding was disrupted. It took a while to rebuild the system, during the Napoleonic wars and, as a result, the Royal Navy was always in a bit of a hand-to-mouth existence with respect to shipbuilding and repair.

Britain’s naval superiority was assured by 1815, of course. The national myth-making assumes that, in truth, naval superiority was assured by 1700 at the latest. There was a ‘tradition of victory’, after all, and ‘Rule Britannia’ was composed in 1740. Rodger, however, notes that Arne probably meant it to be aspirational. After all, Bonnie Prince Charlie was able to land in Scotland in 1745, which does not indicate a particularly secure command of the ocean. If the French had been particularly interested, they could probably have defeated Hanoverian Britain and restored the Stuarts. This, however, was not to be.

The story of how Britain did come to rule the waves is, therefore, a lot more interesting and varied than popular history would have it. The true heroes are the naval administrators, from Pepys onwards, who laid the foundations for and maintained the operations of the dockyard and supply systems. The ultimate key to British naval supremacy was to be found in the ability to keep ships at sea for long periods, to repair them quickly, even when not in home waters, and, strategically, to maintain a squadron in the Western Approaches to the Channel.

This last point was not always recognised by politicians, but it was really essential to eighteenth century naval strategy. It could only happen, of course, because the logistical bases of the navy, particularly at Plymouth, had been built up, by the heroic administrators are farsighted admirals. The Western Approaches squadron could protect British trade both to and from the Americas, Africa and India and also, when needs must, intercept other country’s trade and attack their trade protection squadrons.

At this point, a key difference between the Royal Navy and their French and Spanish equivalents comes into play. Royal Navy captains and admirals were expected to be aggressive and attack. French and Spanish navies, strategically, were to protect trade and were, therefore, trained and ordered to be more defensive. They protected convoys. Royal Navy ships attacked the protectors of convoys and anyone who might intercept British trade. Rodgers notes that no British naval captains were court-martialled for being over aggressive against the odds, while a number were for not pressing home attacks. Incidentally, this also accounts for the much-repeated assertion that French ships fired at rigging while the British fired at the hull. The French approach was entirely logical – if you prevent the enemy from sailing at any speed by shooting away their sails, the convoy can escape.

The British did have various technical advantages over their enemies, such as copper-bottomed ships which made them faster and needing less maintenance (which could, in fact, strain the ship’s structure) but the real advantage was in the professional logistical and support structure which Howe so nearly wrecked. That he did not, and that the Royal Navy managed to recover, even in wartime, is a tribute to the resilience of the system as a whole.

The next villain is Napoleon. Rodger blames him, probably quite rightly, for bleeding France and the rest of Europe dry and thus leaving the seas to Britain. The French and Spanish navies could have taken on the Royal Navy and might have won. However, there were no resources and few trained sailors for them to do so. The infrastructure was not available. Further, Napoleon never seems to have understood how navies work and seems to have ordered naval squadrons around as he did army corps, with exact timetables and concentrations. Given the state of naval technology and the nature of seas, this was never going to, and did not, work. Towards the end, even though the French were building warships, they were (even if they had been launched) almost certainly not going to challenge the Royal Navy after 1805.

Rodgers notes that there was no assertion of the sovereignty of the seas by Britain in the post-Napoleon treaties. It was not required. Everyone could see that Britain, by 1815, did rule the waves. No-one needed to mention it; it was not disputed. Mostly, it was Napoleon’s fault.

Finally, we come to the third villain, Henry VIII. How come he gets the blame? Before him, Britain had a navy much like anyone else’s – brought into being when needed for the monarch’s wars. With Henry’s (sort of) assertion of Protestantism, Britain was left facing a hostile Channel coast. I have noted before that part of Elizabeth I’s strategy was to secure a friendly power in the Channel ports, and she managed that. But with France and Spain Roman Catholic and Catholicism resurgent across Europe, England, and then Britain, needed a navy in being. And that meant starting (admittedly rather haphazardly) the navel infrastructure which led to naval supremacy.


Without Henry VIII, therefore, Britain would not have had to professionalise naval administration and there would have been no command of the ocean, because it would not have been needed. Therefore, if anyone comes at you with the old canard that religion is not important alongside other factors in history, such as economics or technological factors, just point them to the development of the Royal Navy and Rodger’s book.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Drums and Trumpets

One book, they say, (or at least, I do) leads to another. Now, I am quietly reading, as a further extension to my ‘Wars of the Counter-Reformation’ “project” (scare quotes are required, I think; at present, I am basing some ancient Spanish infantry)

O'Neill, J., The Nine Years War 1593-1603: O'Neill, Mountjoy and the Military Revolution (Dublin: Four Courts, 2017).

Now, this was not a cheap book (it was a gift; I don’t usually blow the book budget all at once) but it does raise some interesting questions, even though I have only read the introduction.

Firstly, O’Neill notes that one aspect of why there is no overall account of the Nine Year’s War (so named, even though it lasted rather longer) is that the works of Hays-McCoy and Falls, in particular, have said all that needs to be said on the martial aspect.  He notes that these accounts are mostly over sixty years old. The fact that they are recently republished  (1990 for my copy of Hays-McCoy’s ‘Irish Battles’, 1996 for Falls’ ‘Elizabeth’s Irish Wars’; this counts are ‘recent’ for most historical publication – I mean publication of history) suggests there is nothing much else available.

There is a fair bit of more specific stuff, but no overall revision of the military history or narrative of the war. Further, unless O’Neill had intervened, I am led to suppose (admittedly by the author himself) that no overall military narrative would have been prepared. Military history is only tenuously acceptable in the academy. Most military history is regarded as ‘old style’ drums and trumpets – accounts of campaigns and battles – which might sell large quantities but which skimp rather on the analysis and contextualisation of the war, battles, campaigns and so on.

O’Neill’s second point, therefore, is that military history needs to look beyond the wars and the outcomes of battles to that larger context. Drums and trumpets history tends to stop, at least, with the peace. It rarely puts the violence of a war into the context of the violence of a society. To choose a modern, unfortunate, issue, is the propensity of the United States in recent decades to go to war a reflection of the violence that appears to be inherent in that modern society? I am not intending to discuss or answer the question; it is one possibly to be tackled by examining attitudes to lethal weapons both within and outwith that particular state and its military system.

Certainly, some people who I have read suggest that society in the United States suffers from what Walter Wink called ‘the myth of redemptive violence’. He cited the Popeye cartoons as examples. The trajectory of the narrative is that Popeye is duffed up by Pluto, Olive Oyl is kidnapped, but Popeye saves the day by eating spinach and becoming super-powerful so that he can out-duff up Pluto, rescue Olive and win the day. Wink notes somewhere, I think, that the history of the two world wars could be summed up in a Popeye cartoon, at least from the US point of view.

As a second witness, I heard Stanley Hauerwas give a lecture in which he asserted that the US Civil War came to an end in 1917 when the US joined World War One. Confederate flags in Southern churches, he claimed, were replaced by the Stars and Stripes. As a Texan, he argued that this was because Texans like to kill people and had not had much chance since the end of the Civil War but now did as paid agents of government.

As I say, not being from the United States I am certainly not qualified to comment on wither assertion, except to suggest that they might, firstly, lend some credence to an affirmative answer to the original question and, secondly, they might also suggest reasons as to why military history is not popular in the academy, while being fairly popular outside it.

The problem is that so many drums and trumpets publications are of dubious quality anyway. O’Neill notes (p. 16) that circumspection is warranted. Popular publications do lionize particular leaders (Alexander III of Macedon springs to mind – someone commented here that he was certainly ‘great’ because he conquered the known world; his victims might disagree), and, in a comment I rather like, some popular literature ‘sought to hypnotize their readers with military hardware pornography’.

Academic history, therefore, quarantines the actual execution of war. Indeed, I did an Open University history course a few years ago (before they put the prices up to lunatic levels and scared off people like me) which stated that the Treaty of Troyes was more important than the battle of Agincourt. The implication was that Troyes merited serious historical study while Agincourt did not. But, I thought, without Agincourt, there would have been no Troyes. Who wins battles does actually matter to history, however much we might try to brush over campaigns, battles and violence.

O’Neill concedes that traditional military history, of the drum and trumpet kind, has probably had its day. There is only so much you can get from an account of troop movements, decisions by generals and detailing battles. Lack of higher level analysis reduces military history to historical voyeurism. Historical voyeurism of this nature is, of course, related to the pornography of violence rife in our societies and, also it seems to me, Wink’s myth of redemptive violence. Military history which concludes with victory misses out the most troublesome part of victory – winning the peace. The examples are too numerous for me to give any.

As wargamers, of course, this tends to leave us with a particular set of texts which we use for our military history background to wargames. While often the narratives are sound, the interpretations and, possibly worse, the unstated assumptions of the original authors give us, as readers, a level of bias which is appropriate to the age of writing, perhaps, but not so much for today.


The out of date material is, however, all that we have, except for endless rewriting of those original authors. Yet there are lessons which history can learn, about both itself and processes within history from military history. Warfare did (and does) transform societies. Winning and losing battles and wars matters to those societies engaged in them. Armies are cross-sections of the societies that produce them. As with many things, the devil is in the detail, and the details are the decisions, manoeuvers and battles that were engaged in.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

The Collection

Strictly speaking, I am not reviewing the following book:

Stewart, S., On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993).

It only looks like it.

What I do want to talk about is the view of collections expressed in the book. Wargamers, aside from everything else, are collectors.  We have to admit it. We might even be hoarders, some of us. I really will get around to painting that army. Someday. Most of us, I imagine, have been there, thought that, however little our nearest and dearest might believe us.

Stewart argues that there is a difference between a collection and a souvenir. A souvenir is designed to transport us back to the place it signifies. She quotes Marx (which is not quite the alarm bell that might have been a few decades ago). The souvenir is a commodity made by labour. The souvenir spans the gap between the produced object and the origin. It reconstitutes the scene of acquisition.

The collection (or strictly, the objects in the collection) further alienate from production. We collect, but we do not ‘earn’ the item in the way that we obtain a souvenir, by actually visiting somewhere. As collectors we are consumers. The objects in a collection, therefore, signify money. Collected objects, such as coins or old bottles, are abstracted from their original use.

There is thus a difference between craft and mass production. A craft is a pre-industrial mode of production. The collection replaces craft activity in late modernity, Stewart suggests. A collection is a consumer activity. It links a pre-industrial aesthetic – that of the hand-made and one off – with a consumer society mode of production, that is mass-production, and mode of acquisition. We collect the ready-made.

The quality of a single collected object is negligible. What is important is the relation of an item in the collection to the others. In a coin collection each item matters, but in relation to the other coins. The value of a collection is not the sum of its parts, but the overall aesthetic, which is given by the position of the object and its manipulation within the collection.

So far, so abstract, I concede. But how does this apply to a collection of wargame figures?

Well, the last point I think can be agreed. A single wargame figure (as opposed to a model not intended to be used for a game) has very little use or value outside its army. The value of the single cavalry trooper is negligible without the rest of the squad, regiment or whatever. Even if the wargame is to be played at the lowest level of skirmish, the single figure is of comparatively little use.

What of the value (for the wargamer) of the model? Well, I suppose that this might vary. I recall from the old DBM-list (which was a fairly scary place for a newly returning wargamer) there was, on occasion, great glee or massive despair when new versions of the rules were released which made this or that troop type better or worse than before. Did the value of the soldiers change?

I suspect the answer is ‘sort of’. The intrinsic value might not have varied, but the use within the collection, the army, might have done. However, this must be limited by the fact that the troop type is still required, or at least permitted, in the army. The particular value of the troops might have changed, but their overall use value has not.

We could, I suppose, argue over whether wargame figure production is a craft or mass production. I have to say I could argue it either way. It seems to depend on whether you think spinning a mould of 24 figures or so is sufficiently ‘mass’ for mass production. Of course, I know that some wargamers cast their own figures or even make their own moulds, but this is not behaviour I see at many wargame shows. So far as the consumer goes, in many cases, the receipt of, say, 144 identical infantrymen counts as mass consumption, if not strictly mass production.

However, that said, a craft element is to be found in a wargame collection. Many wargamers paint their own figures, make the terrain and so on. Some, admittedly, do not, but the majority, I’d say, do their own painting of at least some of their figures. This, surely, is a craft, a throwback to a pre-industrial way of proceeding. Interestingly, I recall that a lot of model railway figures come pre-painted, which might cast a different light on the craft of making model railways. But I digress.

Stewart argues that the combination of pre-industrial content and post-industrial form is a contradiction in a collection. Forming the collection is aesthetic consumption. Creating the collection is functional consumption. The collection ‘marks out the space of the ornament and the superfluous’ (p. 166). Further, she suggests that purchasing a collection all at once is not acceptable.

So, is a wargame army a contradiction? I think that some of us, at least, would feel a little uncomfortable (for want of a better word) if someone bought a pre-painted, ready-made army. How, after all, can you love them if you have not painted or based them? Part of the discomfort might be along the lines of worrying that our fellow wargamer might simply be a munchkin (to borrow a role-playing term) and have simply bought the powerful army. Not necessarily, I will concede, but there is something about it which does not make us altogether happy.

Is a wargame army superfluous, an ornament? In all likelihood it is. We do not strictly speaking need wargame figures to survive. Their resale value is fairly negligible. These days the lead content of figures has dropped to the extent that a wargame collection (or collection of collections) would probably be of little use in a nuclear holocaust. Wargames are a product of late modernity, of a consumer society and of the emergence of a moneyed class with leisure time.   


The collection of wargame soldiers is something which can never have an end. So the next time you feel guilty at having acquired another load of figures what it is doubtful that you will ever paint (let alone play a wargame with) just remember that you are doing your bit for the post-industrial economy.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

In The Frame

A long, long time ago, I wrote something about how wargames are framed. As I recall, this was based around some comments by Gadmaer which focussed on how paintings and plays, in particular, ‘frame’ the action. That is, there is on stage action, and off stage. Until recently, for example, most rapes and murders in plays were committed off stage. On stage we see the consequences of the activities both on and off stage.

All of this is, I think, still true. In film and television programmes too, much activity takes place off screen. It might be represented in flash-back in some examples, and of course the late modern fascination with the pornography of violence, let alone plain pornography, means that often the rapes and murders, sex scenes and so on are presented to us in glorious technicolour.

The second point therefore is that the framing is done in both space and time, and is informed by the culture of the day. The murders in Shakespeare, for example, are usually off stage. In the average cop film, they are in frame. We might consider that this is something to do with the technical ability to show someone being killed who isn’t being killed, but it is also to do with the acceptability of the scene in the first place. Culture ultimately, I think, trumps what is technically feasible.

A wargame table obviously operates as a frame. I was reminded of this when taking photographs of the end of the Guisbrough battle. As I mentioned when I wrote about setting the battle field up, it is framed in space, and consciously so. The ruined Priory is off the field. The hills and woods to the south of the battle field are off table. Partly this is because I could not find a suitable representation of the Priory. If I could, I probably would have given it a go. Partly, in the case of the hills and woods, it was because I did not want to clutter the actual battlefield any more. The hills and wood would, I think, not have added much to the action.

Perhaps a little more subtle than the geographical framing is the temporal. A wargame is, by necessity, a linear time frame. One thing happens and then the next thing. Cause and effect are firmly entrenched. I have not hear of too many wargames which play with the linear nature of time. Modern novels, of course, do so from time to time. For example, Penelope Fitzgerald’s Gate of Angels starts in the middle and works both backwards and forwards. I have not heard of any wargames that do so.

Nevertheless, a wargame does frame the time. We focus on the battle. We might pay lip service to what has gone before. Articles in wargame magazines often frame the battle in this way – starting from the political situation, the war, the campaign and the moves leading up to the action. But the bulk of the article, the bulk of what we, as wargamers, are interested in is the battle itself – the orders of battle, terrain, deployment, plans and movements. We, therefore, frame the battle in a certain way.

My narrative style of wargame campaigns is, of course, doing the same thing. I have given up on the idea of plotting map moves in detail, and of keeping track of logistics and reinforcements. These things can, of course, add a great deal to the game, but I have opted to frame my wargames in a certain way, skipping over the detail and focussing on the battle field activities. This might, of course, offend the purist but, I suspect, most honest reflection by wargamers would admit that this is more or less what everyone does. A pick up scenario is but one manifestation of the same thing; I’m just trying to connect mine a little bit.

The third thing we do, of course, is miniaturise the whole thing. As mentioned in my discussion of Yarwood’s paper a few weeks ago, miniaturisation enables us to overlook the whole battlefield. In fact, of course, looking at a map of a campaign is doing the same thing. Most generals do not have this advantage. I believe it was General Slim who remarked that the British army fought its battles on the side of a hill, in the pouring rain, at a point where two maps met. As wargamers, and, for that matter, consumers of military history, we get an overview of a miniaturised world.

As I think I noted before, there is also surely an effect of the degree of miniaturisation. While all wargame rules in fact distort the figure to ground scale, there is a limit to what we can get away with before it starts to look a bit silly. A representation of, say, Waterloo on a six foot by four foot table with 54 mm toy soldiers might push credibility for some people. Similarly, a representation of Kursk with 15 mm tanks on an eight by four table might strain some credibility in some quarters. There are limits to what we seem to be able to get away with, and I am starting to think that those limits are aesthetic rather than anything else.

Normally, of course, we get away with the credulity strain by scenario-ising the action, making it part of the whole. Our 54 mm game becomes the defence of Hougoumont. This fits into the overall narrative of the battle of Waterloo. Our level of miniaturisation has led us to frame the wargame temporally and spatially in a certain way. In fact, we have given up the advantage of miniaturisation, to some extent, as we can no longer gain an overview of the whole battle, just this part of it. But this yielding of overview is to make a playable game which we can believe.


There are, then, lots of interacting factors which go together to make up a wargame. Miniaturisation is but one of them. Temporal and spatial framing are others. Even though for most people most of the time these factors are not explicitly considered (‘Just put the stuff on the table and play!’) the look and feel of the wargame is, at the end of the day, what counts. 

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Elizabeth’s Wars


One of the books on my ‘to be written about’ pile is:

Hammer, P. E. J., Elizabeth's Wars (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

I got this because, as you may have noticed, I am trying to update my historiography of the sixteenth century. On the other hand, the book does not really contain any of the descriptions of battles, weapons, uniforms and campaigns which wargamers so frequently hanker after.

You get quite a lot more in the book than just wars from 1558. Elizabeth’s reign was constrained significantly by the activities of her father and siblings. Henry VIII managed spectacular diplomatic isolation in the 1540’s and spent vast sums of money on defending England, invading Scotland and also invading France. He also managed to upset a fair number of people along the way, including the Scots, French and Imperial Emperor. The fact that he was a Protestant (sort of) in an increasingly aggressive Catholic Europe also did not help; nor did the rather ambivalent point of view of some of his subject to the matter of religion, on both sides.

Somehow the realm survived, made peace in Europe and struggled on with an ultimately unsuccessful war against the Scots. Quite what was to be achieved by fighting in Scotland was a bit of a mystery by Edward’s reign. Certainly, Scotland’s alliance with France was a problem for the security of the realm, but there was no way that, after being invaded, the Scots were going to allow Mary Stuart to marry Edward. Still, fighting continued until the English regime fell and a series of revolts, partly about religion and partly about taxation paralysed England and forced some sort of peace.

It did not last all that long of course. Peace in Early Modern Europe rarely did. Mary Tudor married Phillip of Span and England was again embroiled in continental war, albeit with a more reliable partner. However, the loss of Calais in 1558 had rather wider implications for England than the humiliation and loss of the entry port into Europe (much used of course, by Henry – if Edward III had not captured Calais, England’s involvement in continental wars would have been much lower – discuss). Calais and its garrison provided England with a cadre of trained professional soldiers. The royal garrison of Berwick was too small and remote (not to mention in too peaceable part of the realm, as it turned out) to replace it.

The problems facing Elizabeth when she came to the throne were manifold: religion, foreign affairs, the nature of the Scottish settlement (or lack of it), her own marriage and the succession and, above all money. These would have tested most monarchs of that or any other age. Above that Elizabeth had another issue that of her sex. This influenced many of the others – if she married she would lose power to her husband ad Mary Tudor had, and possibly have her realm dragged into wars which were not in its best interests. But beyond that she could not, by the mores of the day, command armies. The problem was that men, aristocratic men with an inflated idea of their own importance as it was, would command her armies and, if successful could threaten her throne.

Hammer takes us through the wars Elizabeth had to fight. The early interventions convinced her that wars were expensive, costly in the lives of her subjects and rather pointless. The assistance to the Protestants in Scotland was vaguely successful but the military aspects bordered on fiasco. The intervention in France was worse. The Tyrone rebellion in Ireland was both bloody and expensive, and the outcome was not the subjection of the island that might have engendered security. Against this background was the rising threat of Spain, chaos, from time to time, in France and the revolt of the Netherlands.

As an additional complication, the more Protestant elements of the kingdom, who often happened to be West Country sailors, wanted to expand their trade and piracy, at the expense of the nearest thing to a regional superpower there was at the time, Spain. The raids they launched were, mostly, irritants to the Spanish Empire, but did not help diplomatic relations at all, especially as the Queen and her council, desperate for money, had a tendency to take profit from the attacks (when they were profitable).

Elizabeth’s government did not wander blindly into war with Spain. They were, so far as it was possible, prepared, but money was always a constraint. English armies in the Low Countries were under-supplied, under-equipped and under-manned. The navy was better prepared but still the government had a tendency to not pay the seamen. The Armada was fought off by a combination of good fortune and strategic error by the Spanish high command.

The Elizabethan regime counter-attacked, of course. The 1595 Cadiz expedition is described as one showing a high degree of coordination by navy and army, and was carried out with a great deal of success. After a decade of war lessons had been learnt although it does have to be remembered that the Elizabethan strategy was always ultimately defensive. Elizabeth aimed for a draw in the war, while some of the aristocrats seem to have seriously thought they could win.

The exception is, of course, Ireland. The Tyrone rebellion had to be won. Strategy and religion combined here in a lethal cocktail that sucked men and money from England and left Ireland itself devastated and depopulated. But Elizabeth’s government could do no other – a Spanish base in Ireland would leave the whole of the west of England (to say nothing of Scotland) exposed to invasion. Further, despite the navy which defended against the Armada being based in Plymouth, there was no viable naval base to control the Irish Sea – logistically, London was the key.
                                         
Of course, the paradox of all this is that from historiographical viewpoints, Elizabeth and her government just about hung on. In myth and propaganda things are rather different. The cover of the book shows ‘The Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth, serene with imperial crown (Henry VIII had declared England an empire, by the way), her victorious navy in the background and her hand resting on a globe. Later generations looked back to the tradition of the Elizabethan sea dog and contrasted their own age unfavourably with it – this was particularly true of the run in to the English Civil War, but not exclusive to it. It is also possible that this requirement for image making and propaganda stimulated the cultural golden age that did flourish – Shakespeare, Spenser and all that. If you want propaganda, you need someone to write it, but now I am speculating.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Guisbrough Fight




Don Pedro look dubiously at the liquid in the tankard placed in front of him. Apparently, it was better and safer than the water. Feeling extremely brave, he took a sniff and a sip, trying to hide the wrinkling of his nose from his anxious hosts. If that was better, the water around here must be pretty terrible. But he sat back and smiled. Some of the tension slipped away, but Don Pedro still rather wished he had taken the hospitality offered by the Manor House rather than the local tavern.

Still, it had been a successful, if long and hard fought day. The English had bought some guns with them this time, and had stood and fought. Deploying under artillery fire had proved to be nearly too much for his novices, and the initial idea of a flank attack on the town via the Park had bogged down, or rather, never got off the ground at all. It had taken ages for the cavalry to turn the left flank of the English position, and that had only been possible due to Captain Trousdale’s treachery. Trousdale was now, hopefully, enjoying Mass in the ruins of the Priory. Still, Don Pedro leant back and hazarded another sip of the ale. Tomorrow they must try to find out where the real English army was.



The picture shows the situation at the end of the battle. Don Pedro is centre right, encouraging his infantry to form up again and advance. The Spanish artillery to his left has recently come into action and, the English artillery (there were two bases thereof) has been silenced. You can see the fire fight on the bridge, or at least, the English shooting rather ineffectively and the Spanish pikemen, who have taken over the assault from the arquebusiers who you can see shaken on the road, advancing.



Here, a closer view of the fighting around Chapel Beck Bridge is seen. The bridge itself is just out of picture, a little closer to the camera. Trousdale is to the left of his men, who were the only base on the ‘Spanish’ side of the bridge at the start of the battle. The other six bases of militia were on the Guisbrough side. You can see the Spanish cavalry running riot in the rear of the English position. The Gendarmes (with a terrain shaken marker towards the centre of the picture) have just charged some yellow coated English pike (having recoiled the arquebusiers). To their left some demi-lancers have just disposed of one of the English guns. Between Trousdale’s men and Guisbrough another base of Spanish demi-lancers lurks threateningly against the English reserve bill and bowmen in the centre foreground.

This is the point at which English morale collapsed. You can see a base of billmen fleeing into Guisbrough; the English demi-lancers have already left the table, having been charged in flank by the Gendarmes after dispatching some treasonous militia men. The loss of the artillery base and some bad dice rolling put the English into ‘withdraw’ mode. The Spanish, again, did not lose a base, but the battle was a lot closer than the score line suggests.

The action was enjoyable, and I learnt quite a lot about the rules. Artillery seems to be a bit on the powerful side. They did not cause any casualties but certainly disrupted the Spanish infantry advance in the centre. What was originally a three wave attack of mixed pike and shot turned into a few bases making piecemeal advances, solely through the effects of artillery fire and bases recoiling. I might need to downgrade the artillery ranged combat factor (currently 4) a bit, or mess with the combat results table. The effect was, possibly, a bit overwhelming.

The original Spanish plan was to cross the Park with skirmishers to outflank the English. Perhaps wisely, Don Pedro declined to commit many resources to this effort – only two bases, as can be seen in the top part of the photos, and these were held at bay by the English border horse. The main Spanish effort came from the cavalry who rode around the battlefield, made contact with Trousdale, established his loyalties and then crossed the bridge to wreak havoc. The rest of Trousdale’s men fell out among themselves – the loyal English militia eliminated the treacherous ones just before the Gendarmes struck, but were then left without room to manoeuver or orders.

The other issue for both sides were tempo points, or rather the lack of them. Neither commander, after bidding for points, could actually achive very much. Mostly, Don Pedro got troops moving using his personal point. The English general only really used tempo to get his reserve moving in an attempt to stop the Spanish outflanking manouver.

This was probably a rather more complex game than my usual ones, and, for most of it, it seemed like the English were going to frustrate Don Pedro, if not actually defeat him. The combination of Trousdale permitting the Spanish cavalry to cross the bridge, and their arrival in the rear of the English position was devastating. On the other hand, the English defence was a bit on the passive side, relying on the artillery to sufficiently disrupt the Spanish to allow their infantry to be picked off as they apporached the stream and bridge. It nearly worked, but more attention should have been paid to the defence of Chapel Beck Bridge.

As for Don Pedro, I think he should have kept his skirmishers in hand and deployed behind them, protecting his infantry from the English artillery for as long as possible. The assaults on the bridge may then have been better coordinated and the whole thing a little easier.

Now, I have to decide on the next battle. The next Abbey is, in fact, Mount Grace Priory, just as the road turns south into the gap between the North Yorks Moors and the Dales. On the other hand, there is a very tempting bridge and confluence at Stokesley, the defence of which could be interesting but, perhaps, a bit like Guisbrough. We shall see, but at this rate, I am going to need a 6 mm James Herriot figure.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

White King


As I mentioned a while ago, historiography becomes fun when a view different from the mainstream is offered. One such book I reviewed here was Jenny Wormald’s re-evaluation of why Mary Queen of Scots failed. Another such is the subject of this post (I said I had a pile of books to review; this is another):

de Lisle, L., White King: Charles I, Traitor, Murderer, Martyr (London: Chatto & Windus, 2018).

The first thing to note is, of course, that this is remarkably up to date for something I read. Older books tend to be cheaper, but this one was, firstly, a birthday present and, secondly, cheap at Amazon, even in hardback. The economics of publishing and bookselling are way beyond my ken, so I cannot account for this largesse from one of the most aggressively profiteering companies on the web. Still, who am I to grumble?

The book is a biography of Charles I, and it is, in my view anyway, something of an attempt to rehabilitate the man as a king. De Lisle is aware of his faults, but casts the blame for a lot of the problems of the early 1640’s, at least, on a clique of protestant, Calvinist politicians, including Warwick and Pym, who had been engaged in treasonable correspondence with the Scots before and during the first Bishop’s War and needed to cover their traces in a hurry. Thus they attacked royal prerogatives, royal favourites and policy in an attempt to arrogate to Parliament the powers that they needed not to be executed fro treason.

De Lisle also believes that this clique controlled to London mob, which they used when their arguments were failing to intimidate their colleagues in both Lords and Commons to get their way. Thus assorted Lords, Bishops and royalist inclined MPs excluded themselves rather than face the mob surrounded the Houses of Parliament.

So far as it goes, I think this argument is reasonable. However, to be convincing I think we would need to look at the behaviours of London mobs more widely in the early modern period. Certainly there was a fair bit of anti-Catholic and specifically anti-Spanish sentiment around at the time, which the clique, (de Lisle calls it a junto) could and did whip up. However, I suspect it might be a mistake to suppose that the mob were controlled by the junto completely. Other seventeenth century (and even eighteenth century) riots happened both with political sponsorship and without.

The book, therefore, is an effort to shift blame for the civil wars from Charles himself to the wider, although still elite, political classes. It is probably true that Charles gets rather a bad press in much current and modern historiography. The Whig interpretation of history, after all, sees Charles as a conservative block to inevitable progress and his execution as a ‘cruel necessity’ along the way to the development of true democracy, unity, financial power, imperialism and empire. Progress, the implicit argument goes, cannot be blocked forever.

On the other hand, although oddly similarly aligned, goes the Marxist theory that economic development, the rise of the merchants, made the tussle for power between king and legislature inevitable, and, given that the rising merchant class had the money and were in Parliament, meant that the king would lose. Again, the development of something (the bourgeoisie, in this case) is historically inevitable and attempts to block it land up in disaster.

The effect of both of these theories is to place the king and his supporters on the wrong side of history. Which, of course, given that they lost (at least from a 1649 perspective) they were. De Lisle does us a favour in drawing our attention to the contingent in history. For example, she blames Lucy Carlisle for tipping off the five members that Charles I was on his way to arrest them. If this had not  happened, and the members been arrested, who knows what might have been next. A cowed Commons, its radical leadership in the Tower and on trial for their lives, would probably not have attempted to wrest control of the armed forces from the Crown when the Irish rose in 1641. But who knows, really?

I think that de Lisle overstates her case a bit. Charles did make bad decisions and followed them up with worse ones, on occasion. The ultimate problem he faced was that, for assorted reasons to do with contingent events and royal policy, he lost the trust of a sizeable chunk of the political nation. The junto may have had specific reasons for doing what they did, but they were not just attempting to cover their backs. The tensions in the political nation were real; personal concerns and political concerns do go together.

There are of course other questions outside the scope of de Lisle’s book. For example, given that battles are notoriously contingent affairs, could the royalists realistically have won. If, say, Rupert had won at Marston Moor, would Charles have felt able to offer some decent terms to the peace party in Parliament and find a settlement. Again, maybe and maybe not.

Overall this is a provocative, rather populist, book. It is an easy read, and you do not have to be a specialist to grasp the argument. That said, sometimes the names and their links can be a bit bewildering. Whether the argument that the whole mess of the 1640’s was not Charles I’s fault is made strongly enough is a bit moot. In the conclusion de Lisle argues that Charles’ vision of society was one of hierarchy and mutual support. The higher support and protect the lower; the lower owed service to the upper. A meritocracy by contrast permits people to achieve by their own merits. However, this suggests that the less successful have less merit that those who rise to the top. On the other hand, she concedes that Charles felt any threat to the order of society had to be squashed, and he did not have the practical power to do so.

The problem with Charles’ view of society, it seems to me, is that there is an assumption that those further up the ladder are inherently able to lead. My experience of management is that this is spectacularly not the case. Meritocracy may not work, but nor does hierarchy. Charles failed in the basic requirements of kingship, by a good number of measures at least. Why should anyone lower in the social ranks than him have obeyed?

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Guisbrough Fight – The Abbeys Campaign Battle 2


Despite all the pseudo-academic-ising which has been the lot of readers of this blog over the past couple of weeks, some wargaming, or at least, some painting and terrain making has been proceeding, in fits and starts, in the background.

Those of you with long memories may recall that the object of this activity is the second battle in my ‘Abbeys’ campaign. The first was the landing of Spanish troops on the open beach north of Whitby, which, as the Spanish commander Don Pedro noted, was rather a lot easier than he, or anyone else really expected. The English militia had, more or less, simply run away.

Not daunted by unexpected success, Don Pedro got his troops and equipment unloaded and Roman Catholic masses said at the partially ruined abbey on the hill overlooking the port. He then proceeded inland, determined to exploit his success. The road inland proceeded over the moors which would have been unpleasant in winter, but in August were merely an inconvenience.

As related in an earlier post, a ‘captain’ of the local militia has offered to hold “Guisbrough Bridge” for the Spanish, allowing them to capture the town, which is the next objective and also has a ruined priory. It is Don Pedro’s aim to brush the English militia army aside and celebrate mass in the ruins by evening, aided by Captain Trousdale and his merry men.

The terrain for the engagement looks something like this:



This is the view from the west of the battlefield, looking east, that is. Guisbrough Town is self-evident in the left centre. This is where the English army is billeted. The Spanish will enter from the top right corner, slightly cramped between the hedge which marks the boundary of the Priory Park and the woods and hills which are slightly beyond the southern edge of the table.

The creation of this terrain has taken some time. The short stream sections, ponds, short river sections, bases of the bridges and shorter road sections are all new. The houses at the near and far end of Guisbrough itself, plus the church (St Nicholas) are also new, obtained in early February and finally painted by me (finished, at least) yesterday. The Manor House in the Priory Park is also new, of the same batch and vintage. These are all Leven Miniatures and very nice they are too. However, I think I erred in undercoating the timber framed buildings in black, as painting the wattle and daub bits in white was fiddly and I then had to go over the timber frames again. I also know that, originally, black and white buildings were not necessarily black and white, but other colours do not really look right.

The other buildings are Timecast and old Baccus hovels, with a Hovels barn on the home farm in Priory Park. The cart lurking behind the farm hovel and the cows in the Park itself are Irregular. The hedges are by a company I forget, I am afraid, and are quite elderly. I bought a pack of ‘bocage’ hedges from them and was rewarded with an enormous number. I have now painted and mounted some of them (so they are at the same height as the roads). I still have a fair few left.

The observant reader will note the existence of two bridges. Captain Trousdale is guarding the near one, which he described as Guisbrough bridge but which is on my 1840’s map of the area as Chapel Beck Bridge. This too is an old Baccus creation. The other bridge is not graced with a name on my map but does exist still. I doubt if the stream turning to a river was called Chapel Beck in the 1580’s (although it is possible); I would imagine it was originally called Priory Beck as it seems to have its origins in the ponds in the Priory Park which would, I suspect, be used to supply fish for Fridays.

The view from Guisbrough looks something like this:



Tactically, the English are simply aiming to stop the Spanish crossing the smaller of the two bridges. They have a couple of artillery pieces with which to disrupt the Spanish deployment, and hope to deploy their arquebusiers to deny the Spanish the crossing. The English are rather ignoring the Park, in the hope that the Spanish will too. The Spanish could attempt to outflank the town by crossing the Park, but that would entail crossing two hedgerows and the stream and ponds.

Aside from that the Spanish seem to have two options. The first is to assault the bridge directly into Guisbrough. This might work and the Spanish are certainly confident enough (or dismissive enough of the English) to try it. Alternatively they could march across the face of the English and try to link up with Trousdale’s men deployed at the other bridge. This would both outflank Guisbrough and cut it off from the rest of the country and reinforcements. The English are (probably) unaware of Trousdale’s treachery. Mind you, it might not exist and his men might not agree.

As you can probably tell, I am rather pleased with the look and feel of the battlefield. I have no particular reason for this, except, I suppose, that it is rather better than my usual efforts and it is something I have given time and energy to. In this sense it is a result of ‘craft’, as Yarwood’s paper discussed. The bits of the battlefield are bought, but I painted them, made some of them, and pulled the whole lot together. I claim the rights of mixing my labour with that of the manufacturers of the buildings, figures and other pieces.

Beyond that, there are the effects of miniaturisation. My 1840’s map puts Chapel Beck Bridge quite a lot further from Guisbrough than it is represented here. The ruins of the Priory are just to the east of the table; the Priory Park would probably have been delineated by a wall, not a hedge. And so on. The relation to reality is a bit vague, yet it is, in my head at least, recognisable. This brings us around, I suppose, to the question of the balance between the game and the real. This is even more pointed in this case where the location is real but the battle is fiction. But that might be a question of another post.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Mapping My Mind?


Further to the last two blog posts, I suppose it is time to try to assess Yarwood’s paper against my views and experience of wargaming as a hobby. Not that my experience of wargaming is any more valid than anyone else’s, of course, but it is mine, and therefore I can explore it.

Firstly, I have to say I agree with a great deal of what Yarwood has to say. Wargamers are, on the whole, male, well-educated and from some sort of social elite – by which I suppose is meant professionals with a degree of money and leisure time. Guilty as charged. Wargaming also tends to be something of a hobby of words – rules and history books – and so does probably depend on a core, at least, of wargamers who are prepared to do leisure reading. Come to think of it, this could be a reason why it is harder to interest younger people in wargaming generally – leisure reading, vicarious experience in local schools suggests, is not something the present generation of children undertake in any great numbers.

A lot of what Yarwood argues about historical miniature wargaming resonates with some of things I have been trying to say here over the years of the blog’s existence. For example, there is a performative element to playing the game: ‘I charge the guns’ is a distinctly performative element, at least within the game world. Overheard by a bystander ‘I slash you with my broadsword’ sounds a bit alarming, but that is because the bystander is not within the game context. The wargamers (or role players in the latter case) understand perfectly what a performative utterance in the game world is and means, and what is an utterance outside the game world (say ‘I’d love a cup of tea, thank you’). The bystander might not have the cues to tell the difference.

The questions of creating miniature spaces and the distortions inherent in creating models are also coherent with some of the things I have written about here. Thus a model is not the real thing, and cannot be. It has to be selective. The question arises as to what the model selects of reality in order to be a functioning model. Wellington stopped the representation of the Prussians at Waterloo. A model of ranged combat will, almost certainly, neglect the characteristics of musket balls in smoothbore barrels (an interesting thing in itself, at least for early modern rivet counters like myself).

Creation of a miniature world is exactly what we do as a wargamer, and it is possible that Yarwood over-emphasises the disconnect between the original and the wargame. While he does recount a description from a wargame of the Battle of Cambrai, which relates the wargame to the events in 1917, he does emphasise that the wargame world is not the real one. However, it perhaps could be made clearer that there is some relationship between the two. Of course, in much wargaming the relationship is less clear. Many wargames, including my own, are only vaguely related to anything historical. Thus my Abbeys Campaign is based around a highly unlikely historical scenario, a ‘what-if’ that almost certainly would not have happened. My  360 BC campaign, similarly, is perhaps based around the nations and armies what existed at the time, but further than that it does not go. Fuzigore is, of course, an imagi-nation (or rather, an imagi-continent) which has, again, assorted historical armies but they are in a non-historical setting. Nevertheless, there is some sort of mediation of what happens by history. I suppose we have a sliding scale from a recreation of a given battle to something which is a game between ahistorical match ups.

Beyond this, I find in myself the definite inclination, at least recently, to distance my games from the reality of war. There are no casualty figures in the Abbeys Campaign. Shaken markers are blanks. In the Ancients wargames, the markers have casualty figures on them, but I have never been really comfortable with that. Partly I justify this historically and in wargaming terms by suggesting that in battles from ancient to early modern casualties ran, for both sides, at about five per cent of the participants. It was the pursuit phase which caused the casualties on the losing side to mount to around fifteen per cent. This phase is not represented in most wargames; after all, pursuing fleeing troops and chopping them down is not much of a game.

Similarly I have decided to ignore civilians – the Mayor of Whitby came to make his peace with the Spanish. I am also ignoring logistics and the fact that an army, even if it could pay for food and fodder often did not bother and, even if it did, would quickly run through the resources of a given local area. I suspect that most wargames are similar, partly because, while we know that civilians usually suffered in war, we choose to ignore it, but also because it is, again, a fairly boring bit of warfare to be modelled.

As I mentioned last week, I think it would be interesting to evaluate the effects of the different scales in wargaming on miniaturisation. I am a 6 mm gamer, for reasons of space and economy, not because I want to employ massive numbers of toy soldiers on the table. Granted most wargamers use 15 mm and above, but I do wonder what sort of effects, in terms of representation and distortion the different scale have on a game. You can, of course, use the same rule for differing scales, but I would wager a very small amount of money (if a) I had any and b) I were a betting person) that there are some differences, if not in how the game is played then in how it is perceived. But that will have to remain speculation on my part.

So, to summarise, I think Yarwood’s paper is very interesting and significantly captures some aspects of the experience of wargaming. I also think, inevitably, it could be pushed further, but that is the consequence of decent research. I must also look at some of the references and see if they are at all interesting.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

More Maps of Wargamer’s Minds


A number of you will, by now, have read the article to which I am referring, namely:

Yarwood, R., 'Miniaturisation and the Representation of Military Geographies in Recreational Wargaming', Social & Cultural Geography 16, no. 6 (2015), 654-674.

But I shall continue, partly for anyone who does not have access to the article, and partly for my own engagement with it. Yarwood notes three reasons for focussing on historical miniature wargaming. Firstly, it permits an exploration of the concepts and effects of miniaturisation. A scaled down world can block reality and immerse the viewer in a miniature world. A miniature wargame, it is contended allows greater opportunities for self-expression and creativity than a video game. Secondly, as noted, miniature wargames have relatively little input from the military. A miniature wargame is a co-production between commercial manufacturers, individual wargamers, amateur historians and key figures in craft consumption. The representation of warfare differs considerable from that produced by MIME-net, the argument is; amateurs are more likely to admit the impossibility of authenticity. Thirdly, Yarwood is interested in the representation of the military. Scale models are widespread, and often represent the military, yet military spaces (of a sort) are produced by playing with them.

Yarwood notes that a great deal of effort goes into producing terrain, particularly for convention games, and painting the models. He does not explore the effects of the various scales available on miniaturisation. This is perhaps a shame (although, as a major part of the research involved wargame conventions, perhaps the options were a little limited). He does note that there is a sense of enchantment, delight or wonder, a respect for the skill and effort put into creating a game. My experience is that this can even (perhaps bizarrely) be true for solo efforts as well. Or perhaps I am just a self-regarding narcissist.

Playing the game reveals imaginative possibilities in the miniature world. Different versions of ‘what might have been’ are available. A wargame enables an action to be run and re-run. Yarwood notes that Deluze argues that a battle is not one “true” event. There is never an overarching view such as the wargamer obtains.

The wargamer can, therefore order and control the space and time of the wargame, as well as the participants in the miniature world. Time and skill are devoted to collecting and painting the models. Collecting armies is a never-ending process. History is classified, moved from temporality to a fixed order. History is rearranged to suit the needs for the wargamer and the rules, partly at least through the medium of army lists. The world of miniature armies enables a creative self-expression. For example, some wargamers prefer underdog armies. They allow exploration of less known aspects of military history as well as an assertion of individuality. Often these statements of individuality are co-produced, however – a wargamer persuades another to collexct the opposition.

Yarwood then turns to playing the game. Rules, obviously, are important, as is chance. However, wargaming is not just about chance, and rule writers try to balance playability and authenticity. Rules enable different sorts of imaginative possibilities. Ahistorical match-ups are possible, as are tournaments or tests of particular tactics. A wargame starts with various possibilities which resolve into a distinctive narrative. A wargame presents its own ‘what-if’ reality. Wargames resemble not only warfare but other games. Thus, Yarwood argues, wargamers can disengage from uncomfortable aspects of war.

A game is a safe, sanitised simulation of war. Death, mutilation, civilian casualties and so on are represented only as the abstract removal of figures, of addition of counters. War is denatured. Generally, casualty figures are not used – the dead and wounded are simply removed. Death and dying are not widely represented in wargaming. Airfix boxes have heroic scenes. Only Charles Grant’s Battle has a casualty on the cover. Wargaming ‘others’ groups such as civilians, women and children. It presents a male gaze of warfare and focusses on tactics rather than social or political impacts.

That said, wargaming hardly promotes militarisation, being largely sedentary and not the sort of hearty outdoor masculinity that the forces seem to encourage. Playing wargames does not encourage aggression, as video games have been accused of doing. The space of wargaming is removed from reality. Imaginations are used to increase the gap between the game and the reality represented. History happened – a wargame is not going to change that. Some wargamers are uncomfortable with ‘ultra-modern’ games (including me). Fantasy and science-fiction games increase the gap and are, often, much more bloodthirsty than historical wargames.

In wargames we see the spectacle of war. There is a contradiction running through argaming of the juxtaposition of fun and death. In play, death is not final; the figures rise again, live to fight another day. Yarwood quotes Sabin as arguing that, in fact, historical wargaming creates well informed participants with a good understanding of the horrors of war. Wargaming can even be viewed as a sort of remembrance of the past and its futile deaths over causes we cannot recall or understand.

Wargames are, in a sense, political acts. Realities are pushed aside (the models of war distort) and war is presented as a banal cultural activity, rather than a political one. Wargames are, superficially, apolitical; try suggesting that the Waffen SS should not be presented on the table.

Miniaturisation is hybrid. It is a social construct supporting certain political visions of the world, yet it relies on a scalar narrative to live. The models represent the wargamer’s interiority. They transform space and open up imaginative possibilities. Miniature wargames may make geopolitics banal, focussing on only one aspect of reality and ignoring or distorting the rest, but that does not make the meaning of the wargame banal. Everyday experiences, perhaps possibly those of choice, such as hobbies, might indicate how we negotiate broader political discourses, or explore social and cultural boundaries.

As a cry for taking historical miniature wargames a little more seriously than they often are, even by wargamers, I think the paper is very useful and interesting. At least, it relates, mostly, to my experience of wargaming. My current campaign, much delayed as it is, is precisely a separate world, a ‘what if’, granted, but a world where the armies are well fed, the civilians uninvolved and the battles are bloodless. Not only that, but I can justify why this might be the case.

Still, I have run out of room, so my own responses to the article will have to wait. In the meantime, if you have read it and feel I have missed something important (or even apparently trivial) out of my summary, please feel free to point it out. And if you have been piqued by something and haven’t read it, don’t be shy…

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Maps of Wargamer’s Minds


‘Geography’, the old graffiti joke goes, ‘is everywhere.’ From my position on the edge of academia, in the “modern” neo-liberal university, the Department of Geography is the one which is aiming for hegemony. There seems rather little that Geography does not cover. From my school days, geography was a fairly innocuous subject to do with maps, climate and why tea plantations were not found in Scotland. Today it is a bewildering array of intertwined subjects relating to everything from philosophy to madness (some people would argue that these are fairly close together anyway), including some fairly mysterious forms such as health, social and cultural geography.

A few days ago I was trying out a new toy which our institutional librarians are very proud of. It is one of those integrator sorts of things which searches more or less everything. It was launched with a massive fanfare a year or two ago, and has just been made to work reasonably properly (although for my money it still has annoying ‘features’). In an idle moment I typed ‘war game’ into it, and had a look at what was returned.

Inevitably, there was a load of stuff on how games of various sorts are used by the military-industrial complex to prepare itself for the next round of proving how vital it is to the survival of humankind. There was also a fair bit of stuff on non-military wargames in the business community, proving to themselves how vital their activities are to the neo-liberal capitalist project they are already committed to (and commit the rest of us to; don’t get me started). In desperation I added to word ‘hobby’ to my search. This brought the numbers down to the easily manageable less than sixty, but also turned up an interesting paper:

Yarwood, R., 'Miniaturisation and the Representation of Military Geographies in Recreational Wargaming', Social & Cultural Geography 16, no. 6 (2015), 654-674.


I thought this was worth a look, and so, in time honoured fashion I downloaded and printed it (I find reading on a screen rather trying after a while, particularly for academic stuff). I hope that the journal in which the paper was published explains the link between the first paragraph and the rest, by the way.

There is, apparently, some interesting work on miniaturisation which has been done. Miniaturising a scene gives the observer a degree of power after it. Yarwood cites, among others, the Siborne model of Waterloo, an enormous panorama of the battle. It looks and feels convincing. We have power over the battle, an all seeing gaze, which the participants did not. However, Wellington insisted that the Prussians were not represented. The discourse was that Waterloo was a British victory. The model represents but distorts reality.

In a similar way, Yarwood argues, models of ships and planes celebrate technology and industrialisation. The model is shaped by political and economic factors which shape both it (as, say, a mass produced Airfix model) and the original. Reality is presented by the model in a semi-detached (at least) way.

On the other hand, model making, such as building kits or painting toy soldiers, is a craft. The power of a model is only realised through someone doing something with it, be that looking at it, painting it or playing with it. The artisan imbues the model with their own self. A quick browse of assorted modelling and wargaming blogs will verify this to the reader (aside from this one, of course. If I imbue my models with anything, it is the characteristic that I am not very good at painting them).  

Playing with a miniature animates it and creates a new world. The imagination is reinforced by the three-dimensionality of the model. In play, space is transformed. A wargame is a miniature, separated world which is still linked to the wargamer and their ‘real’ world, but is different to it. Playing with miniatures can bring new understandings and experiences. The question arises as to what these new meanings might be rooted in, and how they reflect the wargamer’s own perceptions of the world, both as physical geography and as mental geography, political, economic and technological realities.

I have not enough room to do justice to the paper in a single post, so I shall have to continue with this summary and discussion next time. However, the next point Yarwood makes is a kind of interesting one, so I shall finish with that. Yarwood observes that there is a fairly long tradition of using games in military training. There are thus two sorts of linked wargame – one driven by the military and one by recreation.

Simulation of war has been undertaken at least since the inception of Kriegspeil in the nineteenth century. These sorts of thing also get scaled up, so the military uses life sized built up areas and real actors to generate ‘realistic’ war games as training exercises. Sometimes the distinction between a training exercise for the military and a game for recreation has become blurred. Some authors refer to a ‘military – industrial – media – entertainment’ network, where film, game, war reporting and training exercise blur. Insofar as this might actually take place, civilians are ‘recruited’ to the military; indeed, occasionally this might happen in real life, even though war is not a video game (except, perhaps, in the hands of drone controllers).

Miniature wargames have largely been ignored by the military. They have developed, largely, from playing with toy soldiers and do not have the same sorts of hang-ups as the military might do over accuracy, authenticity and, of course, contemporary relevance. Yarwood does note later on that some of the foundational figures in miniature wargaming were soldiers on active service and that, perhaps, wargaming was a form of catharsis for them. Thus, for this academic interest, that of examining a miniature world and its imaginative interactions and performances, unlimited by the boundaries imposed by makers of game software or the exigencies of the military-industrial-media-entertainment network, miniature wargames are, perhaps, a purer form of imaginative world and thus worthy of study in and of themselves.

Still, there is more to come, hopefully next week, unless the MIME network have got me.