Saturday, 30 January 2021

The Siege of Al-Arousa

‘What are you doing, man? Cooking lunch?’

‘No, your majesty. It is a lombarda trabuqera.’

‘Bless you, man. Now, what is this implement you are messing about with?’

‘No, really, your majesty, it is a lombarda trabuqera.’

‘It looks more like a cooking pot. How do you aim it at the walls?’

‘You don’t, your majesty.’

‘What use is it if you can’t aim it at the walls, man?’

‘Well, your majesty, it shoots over the walls. Like a trebuchet, for shooting the severed heads of your enemies back into the town.’

‘You shoot heads from it?’

‘No, your majesty, stone balls, mostly. But over the walls, not into them.’

‘Ah, I see. Where did this come from?’

‘Her majesty supplied it.’

‘How does it work?’

‘Her majesty also supplied these pictures of instruction, your majesty. We put this stuff into this bit, and the ball on top, and we light that bit and run away.’

‘How does it shoot if you run away? Do I need to put you on a charge for cowardice?’

‘No, your majesty. Running away is recommended. The piece shoots when the fuse has burnt away and that stuff lights and the ball goes off in a blur.’

‘Excuse me sire, but the scouts are reporting dust clouds from the east.’

‘Damn. Well, keep shooting soldier. Excuse me.’


‘What did you see, soldier?’

‘Moors sire. Thousands of them.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes, sire.’


‘Your majesty?’

‘Get a message to Al-Arousa to command the army to deploy.’

‘Yes, sire.’

‘Make sure it gets there.’

‘Yes, sire. I will take it myself.’

‘How will that help?’

‘I’ll get through, sire, to Al-Arousire.’

‘That is terrible, sergeant.’

‘Don’t blame me, sire. Blame your court jester, Terence Milligano.’


Recently, I have been wondering if my rules favour the offence. Ferdinand has been on the offensive for the previous battles in the Reconquista campaign, and so I was a bit interested as to whether the Castilians would stand being the defenders. So Ferdinand was sent, with some new technology, to besiege a hsin, an outlying castle. In the real Reconquista campaign, it appears that it was while besieging outlying fortifications that the Castilians learnt how to use cannon to win sieges.

As you will probably have realised, a lombarda trabuqera is an early ancestor of the mortar, and could lob balls over walls. McJoynt has a useful table of Spanish gunpowder artillery pieces used in the Reconquista and lombarda trabuqera is one of them:

“Became the mortero or pedrero; barrel lengths varied from one to three times the diameter; usually cone-shaped, wide mouth, shot stone. Akin to the modern mortar.”

Not being a Spanish or Latin reader, I feel that lombarda trabuqera might translate as something like ‘Lombard Trebuchet’, which would probably be fair enough, although lombarda, is also described as bombarda in Spanish (bombard in English), so it might well be trebuchet bombard, or I could be totally wrong.

Anyway, a few moves after the sergeant's terrible pun, the Castilians were turning out of their quarters and hastening to the ridge to repel a Grenadine army which was deploying to relieve the hsin castle.

Dice had been rolled to control the timing of Sergeant Punster in raising the Castilian army, the movement of said army, and the arrival of the relieving force. Ferdinand is consolidating his reputation as lucky, as the Castilians were moving only a turn after the first elements of the Grenadines arrived.

In the picture you can see the siege lines, Ferdinand’s command post on the ridge, the Castilian jinites and gendarmes hastening forward, followed by the infantry. In the far corner, the Grenadines are arriving, sending their jinites to right and left to attempt to outflank Ferdinand and get among the siege equipment.

The figures are an eclectic mix of Baccus, Irregular and Heroics and Ros; the siege equipment is Irregular and the mortar is Baccus (from the WSS range; so sue me). The castle is very old, from a company called Village Green which no-longer (alas) exists, the village is a mix of Irregular, Leven and probably Timecast. The tents are a mix of Irregular and Baccus, so far as I recall. The siege trenches are very old Baccus, the hedges (masquerading as a vineyard here) are a mix of Irregular and a sadly defunct company called, I think, Narberth Designs, but I could be wrong. You might not like the games, and some of the painting of the figures and terrain is plain awful, I admit, but I am nothing if not comprehensive.

It did not work out very well for the Grenadines. Their main force of crossbow infantry was charged while in march column by some gendarmes and routed. Ferdinand’s jinites stalled the move around his right flank, and spearmen in the siege lines stalled the left outflanking movement. As the Grenadines wavered under the impact of the heavy cavalry and the Castilian infantry started to deploy on the ridge, I, as Grenadine commander, gave up, as I no longer had the infantry resources to relieve the castle.

It seems, probably, that I am not biased (or the rules are not) towards the attacker in my games. But I might be biased towards Ferdinand and the Castilians. On the other hand, as I have noted before, the Grenadines do not have an answer to the Castilian gendarmes. More or less whatever the gendarmes hit they destroy. In this case the Grenadine tempo dice gave out when they needed to deploy their crossbowmen, and so they were charged and routed, while in column, downhill with Ferdinand attached and never really stood a chance.


‘What is your name, soldier?’

‘Hans, sire.’

‘Where are you from, Hans?’

‘Germany, your majesty.’

‘Is this another infernal device for terrorising the enemy?’

‘No, your majesty, that is dinner.’

‘Who is your colleague?’

‘This is Knitz, your majesty?’

‘Hans, Knitz?’

‘And Boompsadasie. Your majesty.’


‘Your majesty?’

‘Place these men under arrest for crimes against humour.’


Saturday, 23 January 2021

Providence Lost

You might, from recent posts, be forgiven for thinking that I have forgotten about reading, at least, about the early modern period. A few wargames, granted, have taken place, but where are the books, you might ask. Granted I did the Armada of Flanders, which is a nice, obscure project, but what about something more mainstream.

Well, since you asked, I have recently read:

Lay, P. (2020). Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell's Protectorate. London: Head of Zeus.

This is unashamedly at the more popular end of the market, but then the Protectorate is a complex phenomenon which most popular historians pass over as quickly as possible, wanting to get from the drama of the Civil War and execution of Charles I to the restoration and the ‘rollicking’ adventures of Charles II (by which we mean sex, of course. Why else read history?).

Lay’s account focusses on the failure of the Western Design and the failure of the project to capture Hispaniola, the original target; Jamaica was not regarded as being a suitable alternative, although in the long-run it had a fair number of advantages. Nevertheless, the problem with the failure of the Western Design was that it showed strongly that the new English government, which had imposed it will providentially, under God’s protection, on Ireland and Scotland, had lost that direct line to the Almighty. This resulted in a political-religious crisis in the regime, more precisely, in the head of Oliver Cromwell.

Lay does not take a straight path through the years, which confused me slightly at first. The chapters are more thematic although still broadly chronological. Before I realized this I felt the text skipped around rather, but once I grasped the overall scheme it made sense. There are a lot of issues at stake in the Protectorate, although they boiled down, finally, to the legitimacy of the government and money.

To deal with the money first, the army was expensive and was needed to keep the country down, particularly the recently conquered bits. There was also the issue of external threats from other European countries who took a dim view of the deletion of monarchy and monarchs from the British Isles, as well as Royalist diehards, both at home and abroad who did not cease their rather ineffective plotting. Taxation was required, and there were arguments between the army grandees, who wanted to tax Royalists forever, and civilian politicians, who saw that some sort of healing and restoration of the body politic was required. This, of course, played into the other crisis of the period, that of legitimate government and what it could look like, given the circumstances.

There was also the problem of the loss of the providential guidance of God. Lay notes that, since the days of Elizabeth, there had been the idea about of the chosen nation (or godly part thereof) to chastise the Spanish (who were, of course, Godless Roman Catholic oppressors) and spread the ideals of Protestantism (the Puritans were only loosely Anglican, at best) and English commerce (and make a lot of money along the way). This was first expressed in the colonization of the island of Providence in the Caribbean, which was lost to the Spanish in 1641. Given the political crisis in England at the time, no-one really noticed, but the idea was the same (and many of the people backing the project were the same) as the Western Design.

The loss of the goodwill of the Almighty was clearly due to the sine of the nations, and so the radical, army led, wing of the government was persuaded that the morals of the nation needed to be improved. This led to the rule of the major-generals and assorted efforts to root out various sorts of behaviour, usually described as sinful. However, the local gentry, on the whole, disapproved of the activity of the major generals and disapproved of the majority of the major generals themselves. The latter were, on the whole, upstarts and tactless in dealing with the machinery of local government. The idea was an expensive failure.

This led to the civilians taking over and their idea was, as is widely known, to turn the Protectorate into a monarchy. Cromwell did not like this idea, and it would have further eroded his support among the godly, but it might have worked. As it was, the status quo left a serious problem when Cromwell’s health started to fail. That problem was, of course: what do we do next?

Cromwell nominated his son, Richard, as his successor. To be fair, the latter probably did not want the job and was barely trained for it. Henry was governor of Ireland and might have managed, but it seems that Cromwell was concerned that the removal of Henry from office would lead to rebellion. He might well have been right; look what happened when Wentworth moved to England in the late 1630s.

It all fell apart, as is well recorded. No-one could really agree on the country was to be governed after the loss of the military leader who had made it all possible. Eventually, Charles Stuart, guided by Edward Hyde, managed to obtain a consensus for the return of the monarchy, as Charles II.

Who won the civil wars, then? It depends on what time frame you choose, of course. From one perspective, the Parliamentarians did. Indeed, from the post-1688 viewpoint, Parliament emerged supreme. From the 1650s Cromwell won, and from 1660, probably Hyde could be seen as the victor. After all, he managed to become the chief minister of the new monarch and marry a daughter to the king’s brother. After Clarendon’s fall, however, this might not look quite the same.

Other viewpoints might intrude. Jamaica, of course, was the first British colony to employ slaves in large numbers. Lay observes that while in the British Isles slavery was not permitted, and a slave landing here was free, this did not apply to overseas possessions. Perhaps in history, there are no winners ultimately, but there are losers.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Anarchy in the UK

When I was a lad (many, many years ago) I used to walk home from school past a garage with a neat white wall. Needless to say, the local youth spent some time daubing the pristine surface with assorted graffiti. The one that sticks in my mind at this point was a capital A in a circle, which one of my friends mistook to be the CND logo. Actually, it was the logo of an anarchist organization of rock band (I’m not sure which, or possibly it was both). Anarchy was a ‘thing’ back then, with anarchists trying to organize to take over the world.

One or two of my friends were sort of anarchists and disagreed when I observed that anarchists organizing to take over the world was illogical. If they managed it then they would, by definition, no longer be anarchists. Looking back I fail to see how I managed not to get punched that often in the playground.

Anyway, you will probably be pleased to know that this post does not have anything to do with modern political anarchy (although Robert Nozick’s fine book ‘Anarchy, state and Utopia’ is another work of political philosophy I shall probably never get around to reading) but about the period in English history often called ‘The Anarchy’, as if there was only one.

As you might have surmised, I have been reading again:

Cole, T. (2019). The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England. Stroud: Amberley.

This is, of course, in pursuit of my ‘what happened next?’ wonderings. I got as far as Henry I last time, and so now we get to the next bit, the Anarchy.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle goes for pathos and poetry:

I do not know nor can I tell all the enormities nor all the tortures that they did to wretched men in this land. And it lasted 19 years while Stephen was king, and it always grew worse and worse… Wherever men tilled, the earth bore no corn because the land was all done for by such doings; and they said openly that Christ and His saints slept. Such things and more than we know how to tell, we suffered 19 years for our sins.’

(Swanton, M. (Ed.) (2000). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. London: Phoenix p 264-5 – Peterborough Manuscript 1137).

In other words, things were bad because royal authority had collapsed, and royal authority had collapsed because there were tow claimants to the throne, Henry’s daughter Matilda, sometime Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and her cousin Stephen. Both had powerful backers in England, and there were plenty of foreign powers willing to take a hand in trying to obtain some advantage, either through a friendly occupant of England (and Normandy) or through carving off chunks of Henry’s patrimony.

Needless to say, it all went rather pear-shaped. Neither Stephen or Matilda had enough power to win either diplomatically or militarily. The war consisted of only two real battles, the Standard at Northallerton and Lincoln. The former was decisive, in that a Scottish invasion was defeated, but was a bit of a sideshow to the real action further south. The latter did not, ultimately, achieve anything much.

The warfare was, mostly, about sieges and taking, recapturing, and building castles. Most of the action and aggravation seems to have been along the London to Bristol corridor and the castles along that line. Matilda's forward post was Wallingford which was often besieged but not taken. Malmesbury was held for Stephen and was similarly immune from capture. The defensive capabilities of castles had temporarily exceeded the offensive capability of siege technology.

As you might imagine, with neither side having the resources to finish off the other, and both being able to draw, from time to time, on external resources, the civil war dragged out into an exhausting sequence of sieges, skirmishes, raids and devastation, in both England and Normandy. Cole’s book is a narrative of the activities of both sides, and she does a good job in keeping track of what was going on, and whose side who was on. It is a complex tale, of course, and one from which neither side should draw any comfort. As always in warfare, the ordinary people are the ones who suffer.

Anglo-Norman warfare is, I think, something that often gets overlooked in wargaming terms. This is not to say, by the ay, that I am about to launch into the period, but I do feel it holds potential which is probably unrecognized in broader wargaming. With only two pitched battles, it tends to get overlooked, and with plenty of sieges, most wargamers might well be thinking ‘boring’. Yet there is a lot of interest here.

Firstly, in terms of battles, the knight was not supreme. I have recently read an essay or two which suggest quite strongly that the key to winning battles was not the headlong knightly charge but combined arms. The infantry mattered, and, of course, mattered even more in siege warfare. Secondly, of course, in terms of a campaign, what mattered was who was on whose side and whether they put their men into garrisons or field armies. There are resonances here for me with the English Civil War. I think some sort of narrative or even map-based campaign (if you have the patience) could be very rewarding, and the numbers of toy soldiers needing to be painted would not be huge as the numbers in the field armies were relatively small (because they were expensive, and neither side had much in the way of resources). Probably someone has already done it; after all, all you need is some Normans and a castle.

In the end, no-one really won. Matilda did not become Queen of England; there was too much misogyny around for that. Stephen, on the other hand, did not found a dynasty. Possible, as Bartlett speculates, after the death of his son Eustace and wife Matilda (not the same one as he was fighting, you understand) he lost heart and agreed to Matilda’s (the other one) son becoming his heir. Thus we got Henry II.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Going Dutch

 ‘Your highness, I believe the rebels are attacking our men at Teetwo.’

‘You do not surprise me. They will want to seize the port back.’

‘Yes, ma’am. But they have the advantage of being able to use cavalry. We have not managed to land the horses yet.’

‘I dare say the stout hearts of our men will overcome the lack of mounts.’

‘Yes, ma’am. The Dutch do seem to be deploying some of their new heavy horse, however, cuirassiers.’’

‘In three-quarter armour? Oh, well, we could do with the metal to make pots to boil the horse-meat in, I suppose.’


After the Small Boat Sailing incident, the diligent reader will recall, the Spanish had landed at Target Two, the village on the Dutch side of the estuary, while the Dutch fleet was at Target One, with the Spanish lying offshore, waiting to pounce.

Naturally, being a wargamer, I did not proceed in logical order, and so the action at Target Two (Teetwo) was the first onto the table. The Spanish have had a short amount of time to dig in at the village port, while the Dutch have gathered up their forces and advanced.

The picture shows the situation a few moves into the action. Teetwo is, obviously, at top right, and the Dutch are advancing to oppose them. On the walls, a Spanish naval gun has opened up. I am assuming that, by the 1630s, the Spanish had learnt to use the truckle carriage for naval cannon, by the way, at least in northern waters.

The Dutch are all Irregular miniatures figures, except the cuirassiers, at the back, which are Baccus, and newly painted by yours truly. They are a reasonably conventional force of 2 pikes, four shot, a light horse (mounted arquebusiers) a cannon, two bases of reiters and two of cuirassiers. Not that there is much difference between the two latter, in fact (or, in rules).

The Spanish are a bit less conventional, consisting of two pikes, four shot, a cannon, three bases of sailors and two of sword and buckler men, representing their non-mounted cavalry. Again, the figures (although you cannot really see them) are mostly Irregular. The exceptions are the naval gun, which is Langton, and the naval landing parties (when they appear) which are also Langton. So far as I recall there are no other landing parties or naval guns available in 6 mm, which is surely an oversight by someone. Langton figures are fine but I suspect they are true 1:300th scale, so they appear a bit small and spindly alongside Baccus and Irregular, like Heroics and Ros figures. They are also for about 170 years later, but I can live with that.

The buildings are a mix of old Baccus and Leven, and the earthworks are my trusty Irregular Roman marching fort. The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed three ships a-sailing in the background. These are two Hallmark brigs (I think) and a Tumbling Dice Hoeker, operating out of the port with a surprise for the Dutch.

As the Dutch deployed, the plans started to be shown. The Dutch idea was to seal off the port with their cavalry and then assault the corner with the cannon with the infantry, shot in by the cannon. The Spanish plan was to sit tight until the landing parties hit the beach to the left flank and rear of the Dutch.

The picture shows the deployment in accordance with the plans. The Dutch curiassiers are nearest the beach providing flank guards to the advancing infantry. The Dutch cannon has just deployed. Meanwhile the Spanish flanking force has just leapt into their dingies to hit the beach (the dingies are very useful little boats from Tumbling Dice – I’ve been looking for something of this nature for years).

Spanish naval gunfire has clearly improved since the Armada. The gun on the walls hardly missed all battle, disrupting the Dutch infantry and, perhaps more importantly, engaging in some wickedly effective counter-battery fire, and eliminating the Dutch cannon in a single shot. Meanwhile, the landing parties hit the beach. Count Maurtiz, the Dutch commander, dashed to the left flank and turned the rearmost cuirassiers around to crush the sailors. The leftmost landing party, not really seeing any other alternative (their friends were safer from being charged by being behind the line of the stream) charge the curiassiers. (I really did not see any alternative here; if they had attempted to stand the charge of the horse, they would have been toast).

To my surprise, the cuirassiers fled. Not only did they flee (without spending any time in close combat) but, due to the constraints of their deployment, they fled through the other cuirassiers and swept them away as well.

In the picture the cuirassiers can be seen fleeing between the lines, while the sailors continue their pursuit towards the friendly walls of Teetwo.

The cavalry threat having evaporated, the Spanish sallied forth and, lead by their general, set about the Dutch left flank musketeers, who were turned to face the threat from the remaining landing parties. With alarming alacrity the swordsmen routed the musketeers, including Count Mauritz, and the Dutch, who had been wavering, collapsed in rout.

What can I say? It was an enjoyable and amusing battle – the look on my face when the landing party charged the cavalry and rolled a six-one against them must have been something to behold, and the accuracy of the Spanish gun also caused some note. The Spanish had a plan and it worked, almost to perfection. Actually, much better then I expected, I was a bit slow with the counter-attack. The Dutch sort of had a plan, and it really did not word, largely due to very poor dice rolling at crucial moments.


‘Count Maurtiz of Nassau, your highness.’

‘Ah, Mo. I was expecting you. Your wound is not too serious, I hope.’

‘No, ma’am.’

‘Well, it is lovely to see you. You’ll know Freddie, of course.’

‘Prince Frederick Henry, your highness.’

‘Well, now, I’m afraid Mo that you are not as popular as our Freddie. No one has asked to ransom you, so I am thinking about a week or two of special offers. You know the sort of thing, ransom one Freddie and get a Mo free. What do you think?’

Saturday, 2 January 2021

England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings

 As I noted a few posts ago, I read this:

Bartlett, R. (2000). England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075 - 1225. Oxford: OUP.

Very good it is too, and I got it for an excellent price for a second hand book in excellent condition.

The word I should use to describe the contents is ‘comprehensive’. It really does cover more or less everything you might want to know about life in England between the Norman Conquest and the coming of age of Henry II. As such, of course, it will not interest many wargamers.

As I mentioned before, the chapters in the book are thematic, so the book lacks a narrative thread. That has to come from other sources, but that is not hard to do. The reward for persevering is a much more rounded view of England as it emerged from the Norman Conquest and as life evolved over a hundred and fifty years.

The first thing covered are the problems related to the crown: who, exactly, ruled England. Among European nations of the time, England was a highly centralized state and, as such was a prize worth fighting for, as the centralization made taxation lucrative. As noted before, the problem after the Conquest was that the rulers of England tended to have one foot in England and one in Normandy. This also went for their most important nobles, and, if the Duke of Normandy was not the same person as the King of England could lead to significant problems and warfare. Mind you, the barons of Normandy were a pretty turbulent lot and the rules of surrounding territory were certainly willing and able to interfere and take advantage of any disputes.

The split led, of course, to two sustained periods of conflict. The first was between William I’s sons, the second between Henry I’s daughter and her cousin, Stephen. One of the things which are clear from my reading (and I have read a book on the Anarchy, the latter conflict, which I will come back to at a later date) is that warfare was rarely decisive and usually landed up in a mass of sieges. In the anarchy, there were two battles: The Standard and Lincoln, over nineteen years of activity. I am not sure you could count the sieges.

The absence of the King from England for frequent and lengthy periods did allow the development of some bits of English society and culture which we recognize today. The most obvious is English Common Law, which started to emerge under Henry I as some aspects of the system of justice were brought under more central control It would be nice to think that this was because it was felt that the King’s justice was better, less arbitrary, fairer or something than that meted out by manor, hundred or shire courts, but it seems that the most likely reason for the development was financial – the crown took the fines and fees.

Nevertheless, the development of a central system of justice and of taxation (the Exchequer became more key) and record-keeping does make England after, say, 1215, seem a bit more familiar. There are still oddities that I do not know the development of, such as serfdom. The development of Common Law meant that it became increasingly important to know who was a serf and who was free. The boundaries were not always that clear, and a lot depended on who you could get to swear that you were free, and what dues you had and had not paid.

Other things that strike are the development of monasteries and monastic orders in England, often under noble or royal patronage, and the development of the church as a whole. Bishops were often appointed from among the king’s clerks and there were inevitable clashes between crown and church, most notably, of course, with Thomas Becket. The use of excommunication as a means to bring recalcitrant monarchs into line grew, although its effects were not huge necessarily – more of an embarrassment particularly as the use of excommunication became a weapon in the clashes between church and state.

For a bit of wargaming input, there is a chapter on warfare during the period, although it is fairly short. Raising men was the problem as was money. The feudal host was still, in principle, available, as was the peasant militia, but both of these were often commuted to a tax to enable the hiring of mercenaries. The major innovation of the period was the spread of the castle, and hence, the bogging down of most campaigns in siege warfare. The castle was used to secure land, and as Bartlett notes, that was as true in 1216 as it had been after the Conquest. Bartlett even suggests that there was a form of warfare developed in the period ‘castle-based’, and notes that castles were built to oppose other castles. For example, Stephen built five counter-castles around the Angevin stronghold of Wallingford.

Perhaps the ‘anarchy’ of Stephen’s reign is a good example of what I have often said and most wargamers disagree with: battles are often not that important, what matters is holding land and taking it, and that requires sieges. This seems to be a rule of warfare at least until Marlborough, who, according to my copy of Chandler’s Marlborough as Military Commander fought ten major battles and twenty-six sieges yet is usually regarded as a master of the battle. Battles, of course, are the romantic’s decisive encounter. Sieges are the gritty reality of medieval and early modern warfare.

Before I digress to far, Bartlett’s is a fine book and covers things which would be of interest to some wargamers. For example, the breakdown of farm animals would probably inform many a medieval skirmish game (lots of sheep, apparently). Ideas about the founding of towns and trade would also be of interest, as would the structure of the aristocracy and settlement patterns across the country. In short, there is plenty of meat to go on, even if most wargamers would probably pass the book by.