Saturday 26 September 2020

The Ambassador

‘Ah, Ferdie, there you are.’

‘Good morning my pretty little crusader. How does the day find you, my flower.’

‘Don’t patronise me, Ferdie. And anyway, it is mid-afternoon. You missed the intelligence meeting.’

‘You should have waited until I got there.’

‘We’d still be waiting, Ferdie. How is your hangover?’

‘Fine. Hang on, what hangover? I mean how did you know, or think, that I have one? I don’t.’

‘I count, Ferdie. I count how many drinks you have, and see how you manage to stagger off to bed. But anyway, we have important matters arising.’

‘Oh, like what? Could I have a drink?’

‘No. There is an ambassador coming to Granada from the Barbary States to negotiate with them. I think we need a word with him.’

‘Fine, I will send him an invitation to come to Seville.’

‘Don’t be a twit, Ferdie. He is going to negotiate an alliance with the Nasrids to fight us off.’

‘Oh. Well, can’t we persuade him not to? I mean, a barrel of beer and some trinkets sometimes work.’

‘We will, as you say, persuade them not to. But it will require a little work on your part.’

‘Oh, fine, no problem. What do I have to do? Order a letter to be written?’

‘No, you leave in an hour for Cadiz. The joint fleet is mobilizing and you will take command, leading the force to intercept the ambassador and bring him here, where we will negotiate with him.’

‘But I’m busy with other things. This war won’t fight itself, you know.’

‘I know, but your war is a brave but foolhardy attempt to drink all the wine produced in the country. Incidentally, that is stopping now; our ships have been issued with beer only, for all ranks. I am sure that a nice trip by boat will blow the cobwebs away for you.’

‘I’m not sure I’m the right person. I don’t do admiral type stuff really. I’d better stay here while someone….’

‘Ferdie, are you the king of Aragon?’

‘Of course, you know that.’

‘And is Aragon the foremost naval power in the Western Mediterranean at this time?’

‘Oh yes. It is a matter of great pride. Castile has the soliders, but we have the sailors, and I am their leader!’

There was a pause. Isabella raised an eyebrow.

‘I’ve just talked myself into this, haven’t I?’

‘You have, my dear. Well done; I don’t think I could have done better. I’ve ordered some new bed sheets for when you return, by the way.’


From the above you may well, correctly, divine that I have completed the refurbishment of my renaissance galley fleets. This was a bit more difficult than I imagined, as a number of flagstaffs have simply disappeared and spare parts are not available. Still, I managed to cobble together thirty-two ships of assorted sizes, and only one seems to be destined for the scrapyard at present, unless I have a sudden rush of improvisation to the head and an unwarranted and unprecedented attack of creativity in the modelling department.

Rules are a bit of a puzzle. I, of course, only have two rule sets and both of them are old. I have ‘Armada’ which might be suitable but seems to be more for small numbers of ships and is an old-style rule set with extra points for English sea dogs. To be fair, it also has extras for Spanish sea dog, just not as much. It also relies on record-keeping which, as many who read the blog might have discerned, is an anathema to me. The other possibility is Unholy Alliance and old set from Hallmark. I confess to never having used these, either. While claiming to be fast play they still seem a bit fussy to me, although I shall, of course, pinch some of the mechanisms and ranges.

Inevitably, I shall cobble my own rules together. Renaissance galleys did not particularly ram each other but relied on forward-mounted (and facing) heavy artillery and boarding. The Spanish have the heaviest and most heavily manned galleys, the Barbary Coast states the lightest. The Venetians had the best artillery but were more lightly manned than some others. Galleass were the big beasts and could mete out massed destruction but were less manoeuvrable and slow. And so on.

Interestingly, it was the artillery on the galleys that drove the development of fighting sail. Northern warships had to find a response the heavy guns on galleys or get blown out of the water. Even at the end of the Sixteenth Century the English government was concerned by the possible deployment of Spanish galleys in the Low Countries. The answer was, first, stern-mounted artillery in sailing ships, followed by bow-mounted chasers. Finally, the broadside was developed with closing port-holes for inclement weather. After a few hiccoughs (Mary Rose, Wasa) the sailing ship outclassed its oared rival.

Anyway, back to the scenario. After the successful capture of Al Hambra (see the Reconquista link to the right for the details) it would be natural for the Grenadines to seek some help against the Castilian hordes. The natural allies are the Barbary states of North Africa – this was before they became vassals of the Ottoman sultan, of course – and so, as Isabella has observed, an ambassador has been despatched to negotiate a treaty. This man Ferdinand must intercept before he lands at Malaga.

The ambassador is travelling by a comfortable merchant galley. The Barbary Coast fleets tended to the lighter galley (much used for raiding, piracy and other seaborne activities), but they will need a flagship as well, and could have a couple of medium galleys too, something like eight lights, three mediums and a Lanterna as flagship.

The Spanish tended to heavier galleys (and bigger guns, apparently). That would amount to something like a flagship galley, ten heavy galleys and a light (for scouting). The North Africans have to land their man at Malaga, the Spanish have to stop that and, preferably, seize him for themselves.


  1. Interesting stuff, I like your campaign narratives! On rules, I seem to remember a WRG 'Rulette' booklet on this period - maybe from the 1980s.. anyone else?

    1. Thank you.

      As to rules, yes, I seem to recall something WRG, but not the title.