Saturday 27 July 2019

Crossing the Tees

The story so far…..

Those of you with long memories may recall the Abbeys Campaign. This started with a surprisingly easy landing for a breakaway group of ships and soldiers from the Spanish Armada just north of Whitby. In essence, the English militia ran away. Having thus taken the port, Don Pedro and his army advanced inland, meeting up with the local militia army at Guisborough and, with the aid of some defections from the non-trained band part, overcoming the opposition.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, news of the landing alarmed James VI, who determined to advance south and assist his protestant sister and her kingdom. Not all in Scotland or on his council agreed, however, but the king brushed past the objections at Coldingham. Meanwhile the English navy failed to prevent reinforcements, led by Don Pedro’s friend Don Carlo from landing at Whitby. They have advanced inland and made contact with Don Pedro, and been deployed at Yarm, the first inland bridge over the River Tees. Their object is to prevent the Scots from crossing and joining with the English army which is concentrating at York.

Now, as they say, read on….


‘What do you mean there is another bridge? I know there is, but its miles away.’

‘Sire, I mean that there is one closer. The Piercebridge is the third bridge over the river, not the second.’

‘And where is the new second bridge?’

‘A league or two upstream, sire. At a place called, um, Croft.’

Another man entered the room. ‘Don Carlo! Don Carlo, sire!’

‘I am not deaf, man. What is it?’

‘The Scots, sire! They are on the move!’

‘I am still not deaf man, but if you continue shouting that won’t last long. Which way are they going?’

‘West, my lord. Um. Upstream.’

‘Order the army to march, cavalry first.’


And so was the fifth battle of the Abbeys campaign narrated into life. The initial thought was a ‘race for the bridge’ scenario, and so dice were rolled to see how much of a start the Scots had. Poor Scottish rolling (or Spanish organisation, it depends on how you look at it) meant that King James’ boys had only one move start over Don Carlo. Further, I had decided, slightly to my consternation, that after the Scottish cavalry which would seize the bridge and village of Croft would come the Scottish artillery. The idea was to deploy them north of the river, just beyond Neasham Abbey, to disrupt the Spanish march. King James, of course, was known as a canny operator who managed to survive Scottish politics for many years, before tackling England. He, of course, did rather better than his son, who landed up being separated from his head.

The initial dispositions are below.

The river is the Tees (obviously) and it is unfordable at this point. The village is Croft itself and the church represents Neasham Abbey. As you might recall, one of the conceits of the narrative campaign is that all the battles take place near dissolved religious foundations.

The Scots are to the north (left) and enter by the road past Neasham. The Spanish are to the right on the southern road. On the back table, the armies are set up in march order. The Scottish cavalry has just appeared on the table, along with King James himself.

In reality, the Tees loops rather a lot more than my table-top river does, but I will not permit that to worry me. The King’s plan worked like clockwork, and the end dispositions are here.

This view is taken from behind the Spanish lines and neatly shows the problems of the action as pertaining to Don Carlos and his men. The Scottish cavalry, with a move’s advantage, crossed the bridge and seized Croft, while the Scottish guns deployed by the river and opened fire. Some good (or lucky) shooting disrupted the rear of Don Carlos’ army. The extra bit of road which Don Carlos’ men had to traverse to get to Croft meant that the Scottish infantry arrived first and, as seen, lined the edge of the village, outnumbering the remains of Don Carlos’ infantry. Meanwhile, the Scottish borderers skirmished their way into ascendency over the Spanish cavalry.

At this point I, as Spanish commander, was faced with a dilemma. In a one-off wargame, I may well have attacked, trusting in the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune to swing in my direction. On the other hand I did not much fancy attacking a village lined with plenty of musketeers, with cannon fire coming in from the flank and a hefty dose of pikemen arriving to back up the shot. Plus my infantry was, at least at present outnumbered, and the cavalry was taking casualties from skirmishers.

There was also the campaign situation to recall. The Scots had crossed the river, and therefore the role of Don Carlos’ army was no longer relevant, his brief had been to prevent that. Rather than waste his men in a rather futile attack on a village, where his men would be both outnumbered and outgunned, he decided to fall back.

So, the question for the assembled company is ‘Did Don Carlos choose the right course of action?’


‘Carlos! Good to see you again my friend, but what are you doing here?’

‘I bring bad news, sire.’

‘You look glum, my friend.’

‘I am afraid that the Scots are across the river, sire. There was another bridge which I knew nothing of until they were practically there.’

‘Your army?’

‘We fell back, sire, rather than take pointless casualties. The army is near the county town place, Northallerton.’ There was a pause. ‘Are you going to sack me?’

‘Sack you? No, my friend. You did the right thing. An army in being is better than one lying bleeding on the ground. But we need to do some thinking. The English are prepared to strike north, and now the Scots are nearby. You are here and I am at Stokesley. Our options are narrowing, my friend. How about a drink?'