Saturday, 30 May 2020

The English Resistance

Apologies for another off-piste post, which makes two in a row, but there may be some wargaming context here. This is actually being written during the Covid-19 coronavirus ‘lockdown’. Hopefully, when you read it said lockdown might be lifted and the virus reducing. Just as an aside, it is funny how we (not just wargamers) automatically reach for military metaphors for this sort of thing. We have a ‘battle’ with a virus. We have ‘brave fights’ against cancer. Cancer charities, I know, are objecting to that usage, as it makes those who die as a result of cancer losers. Anyway, I shall stop my slightly grim musings and move on.

I have been reading again:

Rex, P. (2014) The English Resistance: The Underground War against the Normans, Stroud, Amberley.

This is a more popular sort of title than the one from last week – occasionally even I get a bit tired of detailed, lengthy academic works, particularly about things I know relatively little about. Rex writes about the resistance to the Norman conquest after 1066, and a very odd book I found it too.

Firstly, the narrative is a bit broken up. Stuff is assumed, mentioned, and then referred to as if the reader now knows all about it. The narrative anyway is a bit confusing, with various names of people popping up and down, swapping sides, reconciling and revolting. Even at a more popular level, this can get a bit bewildering.

The terms in which Rex analyses the resistance to the conquest are also a bit stark. The likens the resistance to the French Resistance in World War Two, carrying out raids against the occupying power but needing outside assistance to make any headway towards expelling the invaders. I suppose that at a grand strategic level this might be true enough. The French, of course, had the Allies to help and, eventually, invade and liberate. The English had the Danes, who were brought off (it seems) rather easily by William.

It seems to me that the historiography of the Norman Conquest has two extremes. Either, as with Rex, it was an invasion, a trashing of the liberties of Anglo-Saxon England, and the imposition of a foreign elite on the English nation and the start of centuries of subjugation. This is, perhaps, the received view, certainly amongst a section of the English political left: the imposition of the Norman Yoke, feudalism, serfdom and so on, on the true English people.

The alternative view is that it did not make that huge a difference. England was a fairly centralised hierarchical sort of nation at the time, and William and his cronies simply replaced the upper echelon with themselves and life for the rest carried on much as before. If you were an Anglo-Saxon thegn, naturally, you were in a bit of trouble, particularly if you had fought at Hastings, but mostly you just moved down a level, had an overlord other than the king, and had to redeem your own lands. Vexing, but not too devastating.

I doubt if I need to describe the resistance to wargamers. Assorted people associated with the old regime attempted, falteringly, to retake the country for themselves. They failed, due to bad organisation and lack of external aid. Rex also complains at length about the collaborators and quislings in the Anglo-Saxon polity that supported William. Well, maybe. It would, I think, have been a tricky judgment about whom to support, but God had shown in battle that He favoured William, and anyway Harold and his brothers were no more, so there was not a single decent figurehead to rally around.

The most interesting and romantic (or, if you like, semi-historical, mythical) figure is Hereward ‘the Wake’. My interest in this resistor stems from the 1970s when I used to visit my grandparents who lived in the Fens. The local independent radio station was Radio Hereward. I had no idea why, but I liked the name. It got confused in my junior mind with Robin Hood, the Disney film of which had just been released.

Anyway, Hereward was a South Lincolnshire minor thegn and eventually, for obscure reasons raided Peterborough with some Danes (who then pushed off) and was besieged with is men in Ely. As the place was then awash with rivers, streams, marshes and so on, this reduced William and his army to semi-amphibious activity, building causeways, bringing in ships and fighting boggy skirmishes. Eventually, of course, might overcame the resistance and Hereward disappeared, to re-emerge in myth, legend and radio stations.

Rex spends some time trying to work out from the records exactly who Hereward was. The ‘Wake’ bit was a later addition, created by the Wake family to give themselves a decent ancestor. This is an interesting aside, and really goes to show that medieval families were not above reinventing history for their own purposes. If they had not done so, of course, there might be little interest in an obscure Lincolnshire thegn and a boggy siege in Fenland. Hereward might be a little bit more interesting than just an obscure Anglo-Saxon who gathered a band of robbers did a bit of raiding and then disappeared when the police turned up, but it is hard to tell. As so often when trying to trace medieval individuals, there are a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘perhaps’ in the account.

Overall the book is an interesting light read even if some of the analogies drawn as a bit overblown. There was post-Hastings resistance to William. Rex is in the camp that equates the Harrying of the North with the total devastation of the area from York to Durham, following the Chronicles. Again, you seem to have to pick one side or the other here. Rex dismisses the ‘revisionist’ views of the Harrying and re-interpretations of ‘waste’ entries in the Domesday Book. Here he lines up with older historians who thought they could trace the movements of William’s armies through waste entries. That seems a little, um, optimistic.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Decoding Domesday

In further pursuit of my Domesday project, I have been reading one of the ‘big academic’ names in the subject, David Roffe, or at least, one of his books:

Roffe, D. (2015) Decoding Domesday, Woodbridge, Boydell.

Before you start to think that I have way too much money and am deficient in the head department (which may, of course, be true) I hasten to add that this is the paperback version of an academic tome first issued in 2007, which would have been, almost certainly, beyond my means.

The problem that Roffe tackles is twofold: Firstly, the question is about what the Domesday survey, the seven circuits of investigation (called the ‘inquest’) were for. Various ideas as to this have been put forward, such as a survey of the population if England for tax purposes, and assessment of how much tax was supposed to be paid, the assertion of Norman control over government locally as well as nationally and so on. The problem here is that none of the chroniclers say why the Domesday inquest was conducted, and, of course, most later commentators read into the Domesday book what they are looking for.

The second part of the problem identified is the relation between the Domesday inquest and the book itself. It is not obvious that the returns from the inquest were immediately turned into a book. It is not even obvious that the intention was to obtain anything except a snapshot of the nation and its service levels (i. e. tax and service to the King whether directly or indirectly via tenants in chief), as a response to the military and fiscal crisis of 1085. William needed money and men and needed them quickly. To know what he could call upon in 1086 was probably a good idea.

The uses to which the Domesday Book and its ‘satellites’ documents were put is interesting. It was originally held in Winchester, the seat of the King’s treasury and was used for quite a long part of the medieval period as the definitive base-line for landholding, tax and service. Roffe observes that in Anglo-Saxon times tax paying and landholding went together – if you held land you proved it by paying the geld. Thus the juries and landowners in hundreds and shires were quite content to name their lands and the tax due from them, as it cemented their claim on the land. Of course, non-taxpayers and non-tax paying land were ignored.

That last statement is not quite true, of course. It would seem that some of the inquest returns (and, maybe, all of them) did do things like count people (including slaves), beasts, areas of woodland and pasture and so on. But, eventually, such items were excluded from the Book itself, because they were not interesting, not being about tax or service. Hence the Domesday Book itself is incomplete as a survey of all England (aside from the fact it excludes the northern counties anyway).

Many of the uses to which the Domesday Book have been put are, therefore, liable to be in some error. We can count the number of people named in the book and obtain some idea about the chief landholders. Thus we do get lists of lands held directly by the King, by his chief henchmen, by various bishops and so on. We also get some idea of how much tax these lands were liable for. We also get some ideas of the next slice down in society, that is, the people who held lands “of” the tenants in chief. These are often (but not always) named, as often is the tenant or owner in 1066. A number of disputes are also recorded in some parts of the Domesday Book, but while some entries have the number of ordinary people residing on a manor, many do not, and so the whole can only give us a lower limit to population.

There are further oddities as well. The village I live in had a Saxon church – the local history society seems to have found the foundations near the present (Georgian) structure. No church is recorded here in Domesday, presumably because it rendered no tax to the King. The church in the nearest market town is recorded, with a priest, and also how much it was worth. One of the nearby upland parishes also has an entry and a priest.

The upshot of all this is that the Domesday Book has, in the past, been used in rather naive ways by historians, both professional and amateur. The assumptions made do not always square with the realities of the documents preserved in the Book. When peering this far back into history, there is a tendency to grab any bit of information which seems fairly solid and build upon it. That can lead to building historical castles in the air or projecting our own interests back onto the past.

The Domesday Book is a bit of a pig, therefore. We would like it to be able to tell us more than it can. It does give us some ideas of some things: landholding at the highest levels of society in a shire; how those holdings might have changed over the twenty years since William came to the throne; geld levels in those places. We can guess that some holders of land in 1066 were English from their names and that some of the holders in 1086 were not. What we do not know is how the holdings were transferred, at least in many cases where the 1066 holders were not at Hastings and did not rebel.

Overall, I read the book as an appeal to allow the Domesday Book to tell us what it can tell us about Anglo-Norman society and how it worked. The Hundred / Wapenshaw / Shire complex of courts and juries is, in itself, interesting enough, but on the whole, historians have not read it for that information. And that is even before we get into the question of ‘waste’ and what that might mean….

Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Escalade of Al-Hambra

‘There don’t seem to be many of them there.’

‘No, sire.’

‘We should just walk up the road and take possession. Piece of cake.’

‘Yes, sire.’

‘By your tone of voice, man, you don’t agree. But you can’t disagree with the royal eyes.’

‘No, sire. But there are plenty of hiding places for light troops, aside from any they’ve got in the town itself.’

‘Glad I spotted that, aren’t you, man?’

‘Yes, sire.’

‘We shall advance with caution.’


Well, King Ferdinand and his merry men have now been persuaded to assault the town of Al-Hambra which the castle, the focus of recent events (see the Reconquista page to the right for the whole saga) was guarding the access to. After a slight pause, to allow me to paint two storming parties, the Castilians are now moving on the town.

The picture shows the Nasrid deployment, in ambush, awaiting the Castilian rush on the town. The plan was to pepper the Castilians with crossbow fire and jinites, not allowing them to deploy and holding them away from the walls of the town. This seems, so far as I can tell, historical tactically.

The scenario also saw the deployment of more or less every Middle Eastern and Mediterranean type building I have. The town sees a fine mix of Leven, Timecast and Irregular buildings, including two mosques from my Leven Christmas box. The figures are a mix of Irregular and Baccus.

The Castilians advanced from the side of the table nearest the camera. To the untutored eye, Ferdinand was proceeding very carefully. In fact, he was merely suffering from a tempo point drought, but the effect was the same.

Mostly using the general’s personal tempo point, Ferdinand is attempting to counter the Nasrid skirmishers on his left with his own jinites (who are suffering a bit) while deploying his infantry. He has also managed to restrain his heavy cavalry from doing anything except shield his deployment. It was at this point that I realised that the battle as an escalade, a rush over the walls, was not going to happen.

The end of the battle came when the Nasrid jinites were defeated. The right-wing jinites were outgunned by their Castilian counterparts. On the left, and a sneaky trip around the left of the wood to take the Castilians in flank started to work, but then the jinites strayed into charge range of a base of men at arms who made short work of them, pursued up the hill, rallied, turned and charged down the hill to finish off the second base. At this Nasrid morale slumped and the army started to withdraw.  After some debate within the town, it surrendered on terms.

The thing is about this one is I have started to wonder if the Nasrids can win at all. It is quite possible that due to the Castilian heavy cavalry being, well, heavy cavalry, that they have no answer to that. In both the relief of the castle and here, a lot of damage was done by the gendarmes without much riposte possible. All right, I made a mistake above and the jinites strayed into charge range when they should have pulled back  a half move, but they do find it pretty hard to make an impression on the metal men anyway.

The other thing I have to decide is whether the campaign is at an end, or Ferdinand and his men go on to try and achieve some more. Historically, Alhama was the first town to fall to the Spanish in 1482, and it was in a fairly exposed position, necessitating a number of relief expeditions. Ferdinand and the Castilian army also spent a fair amount of time, not always successfully, trying to open up better supply routes and security for the place, including the unsuccessful siege of Loja and a couple of sharp defeats in the mountains, due in part of Castilian overconfidence.

The fact that the campaign, as conceived, is run is no real excuse for stopping it, of course. Campaigns, as Tony Bath famously observed, can grow. Add to that the effort I expended in painting assorted jinites, handgunners , crossbowmen and spearmen, plus a castle, siege equipment and even two storming parties (who were on the table in the photographs above, by the way. The eagle-eyed among you might be able to spot them). The other thing that could happen was a Nasrid strike in retaliation. In fact, the Castilian strike on Alhama in real life was in retaliation for the surprise of Zahara. This was viewed as simply an extension of the border wars of the time, although some wiser Muslims were alarmed by the attack, reckoning, quite rightly, that with Aragon and Castile united and secure from external foes, the capture and enslaving of the population of Zahara was an unnecessary provocation.


‘Your Majesty, the Queen.’

‘Izzy, dear!’

‘Hail, conquering hero.’

‘Oh, Izzy, I was just doing my job.’

‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’

‘Izzy, dear, we’re nowhere near the sea. And what is that awful noise from that thing you are rattling? And why are you wearing that blue uniform?’

‘Oh, I’m just getting a bit carried away with your wonderful victory, Ferdie. It is just like a crusade of old, with noble knights going forth with valour and chaste chivalry….’

‘I’ll give you chaste. The orders you sent to my bodyguard were very strict. My only entertainment has been singing soldiers. And they fight a lot better than they sing, I can tell you.’

‘And look what you have achieved through it!’

‘That is all very well, but I could have achieved as much with some more varied entertainment.’

‘I’ll make a note for your next campaign dear. What would you like? The choice is epic poetry, the latest Scholastic theological debate or folk songs from Galicia.’

‘I wasn’t thinking of any of them, Izzy.’

‘No, I know you weren’t, but that is the choice you have. Anyway,’ the Queen moved closer and whispered ‘Send the servants away and then you can investigate what underwear I’m wearing today.’

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Kingship, Society and Church

I tried to stop her. I really did, but the Estimable Mrs P., when she gets an idea, is an unstoppable force. I mentioned a few weeks ago the new, non-wargaming history project I have conceived revolving around the Norman Conquest and the creation of the Domesday Book. And the said Estimable Mrs P. purchased for me, at eye-watering academic book price the following weighty tome:

Pickles, T. (2018) Kingship, Society, and the Church in Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire, Oxford, OUP.

You might object, as I did, that the book covers nothing about the north of England post-1066. The Estimable Mrs P. is canny enough, and a good enough historian, to disregard my objections and buy it for me, as reduced but still exorbitant cost.

One of the things that is true is that if you start off studying one bit of history, you soon start looking at another period, the one just before. Thus English Civil War studies inevitably lead to studies of the 1620’s, and hence to the ‘Golden Age’ of Elizabeth I. Similarly, studies of the Roman Empire leads back to the Republic, and hence to Ancient Greece. History is annoyingly continuous, and hence you land up placing yourself on a continuous spectrum, rather than a discrete age or period.

Anyway, Pickles’ tome is about what we know and how we can know about the ‘Saxon’ period in medieval history. On a side note, the term ‘medieval’ seems to have shifted since I was a lad. Then, it meant 1066 – 1485. Now it means the fall of the Roman Empire in the West to whenever we deem the Early Modern Period to have sprung into life. The bit before 1066 was called the Dark Ages (satirised on a Usenet group I used to read as ‘The Age of Insufficient Light’), when no-one knew what was going on.

Still, history and historiography move on. Texts are re-analysed for what they might tell us, and archaeology throws some sorts of light on peoples and their thinking. As interdisciplinary studies start to gain a bit of traction in the academy (the academy has been talking about them since the 1980s to my certain knowledge), we get studies like Pickles’. Text, such as Bede’s History, assorted lives of saints and so on, can be melded to archaeology of various different sorts (these days, you do not need to actually dig anything up if you do not wish to) to obtain an idea, of sorts, as to what was going on.

Here, the focus is on the Kingdoms of Deira (roughly, probably, from the Humber to the Tees) with side orders of Northumberland, Elmet, Bernicia (Northumberland before Northumberland), Rheged, and a few places even more exotically further afield, such as Kent. One of the things to be remembered, of course, is that while communications could be slower than today (although anyone waiting for a Microsoft Software Update might wonder about that) Britain was not isolated from the rest of Europe, Ireland or anywhere else people went to. It is only a recent spate of ‘Little Englanders’ who think that it was.

Anyway, proto-rant aside, what interests Pickles is how these post-Roman political entities worked in terms of kingship and nobility, and how Christianity came to spread among them until it was the only game in town. His argument, roughly, so far as I can tell (this is, note, the second book I’ve read on the subject – an amateur would be streets ahead of me) is that social groups found Christianity would fit among their contemporary beliefs and that it had some social advantages. The Roman Empire has, of course, permitted the spread of the faith – if you build roads then ideas will travel along them in a similar way to today’s ideas, both good and bad, travelling via Internet – but successive waves of ‘invaders’, whether they were invited as soldiers, came as pillagers, or somewhere in between, pushed Christianity across the country, broadly speaking westward.

This is a complex and largely unknown process, but due to internal politics in some of the polities, among elite families where succession to the kingship was uncertain (primogenitor had not really been invented and, even if it had, early death and infant heirs would have created problems), a fair number of noble people spent some time abroad, in the more Christian western areas. When they returned they brought these strange ideas with them and some saw the ideas as an opportunity. Hence a ‘Ecclesiastical Aristocracy’ (Pickles’ term) was born in the second generation as families realised that control of some of the key church foundations would give them enhanced social standing and, possibly, control of land gifted to the monasteries.

Hence you get ‘second generation’ Christian leaders, the most obvious of whom was St Hild of Whitby, and also conflict between the missionaries from Ireland and Scotland, and those from Rome via the south of England, the dynasties of which intermarried with the northern kingdoms. These sorts of conflicts were political in nature – if your foe favoured the Celts, then you invited the Romans. Politics was not then, and is not now a zero-sum game –choices are rational.

Anyway, this is a very good book, even for a less than amateur historian of the period, and it has solved some of the mysteries of the north, such as whether and why there was a minster model of church growth, and what happened to the original monasteries such as Whitby, Hartlepool and Lastingham. In fact, the discussion of why these places landed up where they did is fascinating in itself, and rather refutes the idea that ‘the church should keep out of politics’.

Of course, the book asks as many questions as it answers. I am finding that I have to write a glossary of terms as I go along, even looking some of them up in online dictionaries for definitions, although my translation of the Domesday Book itself has a very useful glossary to boot. And so, finally, I leave you with the question: ‘what is soke?’

Saturday, 2 May 2020

The Morning After the Night Before

‘My Lord, an army approaches from the north, over the hills.’

‘Oh, excellent. That will be My Lord Satsuma, coming to give us a hand.’

‘My Lord, another army approaches from the south, by the beach.’

‘Ah, splendid. That will be My Lord Mandarin, also coming to give us a hand. With these two, we should be in a very healthy place to deal with these natives.’

‘Um, My Lord Clementine. I do not think the army coming from the south is My Lord Mandarin. I think they are more, um, Koreans – natives, I mean.’

‘Oh. In that case, we might have a busier morning than I hoped for. Still, the rest of the men are ashore and some of those who got wet have returned, so we are in a good place.’


And so the struggle for Eppeid continues. Lord Clemmy, had, as you might recall, retired into the town with the troops he could muster after a bit of a semi-failed invasion type thing. A bit of dice rolling established that some of his routed troops returned to the fold, and that the remaining two bases of his forces landed in the night, enabling him to line the perimeter of Eppeid with men to hold off the victorious Koreans.

The Koreans had their own problems, of course. Similar dice rolling meant that fewer of their men returned to the colours, and the Korean commander was wondering how he was going to deal with the loons called Samurai, who were so very tough to beat even in the open. How it would work in attempting to storm the town (where the defenders would get a hefty plus two on the dice) he really did not wish to find out.

The initial dispositions are here:

The terrain is, as you will note, the same as the last time, but Clementine’s army is now deployed on the perimeter of the town, while the Koreans are in containment positions to prevent a break out. The command groups to left (Japanese) and right (Korean / Ming) mark the location of the entry of the reinforcing armies. Their arrival was diced for – inevitably they both appeared on the same move, turn three.

I had to invent a few rules to make the game work, principally around having four commanders on the table at once. I cobbled together a process of having a senior commander who did the allocation of tempo points, having rolled two dice. It seemed to work and ensured there were sufficient points around for the armies to do stuff.

The first few turns were fairly desultory while the reinforcements turned up, the action being limited to an exchange of fire between the town and the enclosure behind it, in which no-one was, apparently hurt. Things livened up a bit as the reinforcing armies arrived and plans became clearer.

In the distance the Korean / Ming army (OK, it is Korean, but I ran out of Koreans, is that fair enough?) are advancing, while Satsuma and his men are aiming for the orchard and the Korean rear. Meanwhile, Clementine has sallied forth and the Korean cavalry on this side has decided to beat a retreat, so as not to get trapped.

A turn or two later and it has all got a bit complicated.

The remainder of Clementine’s forces have also sallied out (aside from the shot, still banging away uselessly at their Korean opposite numbers), while the Korean horse is moving around the back of the enclosures to deal with Satsuma’s men – the Korean commander had been sufficiently impressed with the ability of his cavalry to deal with Samurai in the last battle, that he intended to do the same with them this time.

Now, it got really messy.

Satsuma’s men on the Korean left are having a huge fight with the Korean foot and, while heavily outnumbered, are holding their own or better. I told you the Samurai were tough. In the centre, Satsuma’s men from the town have been forced by considerations of space to enter the enclosure and have routed the rocket launcher (which had returned to normal form and not hit anything) and some of the Korean foot. On the Japanese left, a confrontation between Samurai foot and Korean cavalry seems inevitable.

The end came more with a whimper than with a series of bangs.

The attack of the Korean horse delayed and blunted the Japanese advance, forcing the extreme left up the steep hill (where the cavalry could not follow, of course) and, in fact, getting Satsuma himself. On the Japanese right, however, Korean numbers are telling and their firepower is looking dangerous, although the lone Samurai base there had just survived one massed volley (a six – one roll, just not Korea’s day, I think). The Samurai in the field has just routed a Korean cavalry stand, however, and at that, the Korean morale went to one above ‘withdraw’. As the Satsuma army still looked dangerous, albeit leaderless, and the Clementine army was undefeated, the Korean commander decided to live to fight another day and withdrew his men.


‘Oooowww! Ow, Ow, Ow, OW.’

‘How are you feeling, Sat?’

‘I got a Korean lance through my leg. How do you think I’m feeling, dimwit?’

‘Well, it was your idea.’

‘If I had a sword I’d hit you with it.’

‘Mandy is here.’

‘What are we going to do now?’

‘We won, didn’t we? We continue with the plan.’

‘Um, what plan? We just decided to invade. And here we are.’

‘To capture new fiefs here, of course.’

‘Mandy, I think we had better arrange for Lord Satsuma to be evacuated. Delirium seems to be setting in.’

‘He does have a point, Clemmy. I mean, if we go home now what will we have achieved?’

‘Fame? Some of us achieved desperate deeds of derring-do, after all. The bards will sing of my holding the town against the odds….’

‘You weren’t outnumbered, Clemmy.’

‘….the odds and then sallying forth to rescue my friend who had marched to my aid.’

‘Clemmy, I think you’re getting delirium as well…’