Saturday 31 July 2021

Government, Religion and Society

You might wonder whether your correspondent has ceased reading. Those who know me, however, would aver that the only point at which I would not be reading is when the last book is pulled from my cold, dead, hand, to quote some US gun-nuts. What I have not done is write blog posts about the books, but that is about to change. After all, my wargamer credentials have been augmented by reporting on a few battles and updating on the painting, so it only seems fair to say something about the reading.

The first book on the blog backlog pile is this one:

Appleby, J., & Dalton, P. (Eds.). (1997). Government, Religion and Society in Northern England 1000 - 1700. Stroud: Sutton.

Obviously, this is a book of edited essays, arising from a conference at Liverpool Institute of Higher Education (now Liverpool Hope University) in 1995. The aim was to cut across conventional boundaries – the Norman Conquest or the distinction between the medieval and early modern periods, for example. I am not sure how successful that was; specialists are, after all specialists. Perhaps in the context of a conference a medievalist chatting to a scholar of the Reformation over coffee might make their respective subjects a bit less opaque.

Anyway, it is an interesting set of papers, ranging from Anglo-Saxon Cheshire (albeit seen through the lens of Domesday Book, of course) through to the problem of recusants and dissenters in the north-west between the Restoration and ‘Glorious’ Revolution. There is a lot in between, as well, a fair smattering of which relates to the issues surrounding the second Anglo-Norman kingdom in these isles, Scotland.

Paul Dalton and Keith Stringer both tackle the issues surrounding the Anglo-Scottish border in the earlier part of the period. There was a time in the middle of the Twelfth Century when the whole of northern England, from the Mersey or Ribble and Humber north to the current border on the Solway – Tweed line, could have become part of Scotland. As most wargamers know, the decisive battle was that of the Standard in 1138, when the northern levies defeated David I, just outside Northallerton.

Of course, it was not quite that simple and the Standard was not as decisive as its result suggests. If David had not been King of Scotland, he would still have been a substantial landowner in England. The defeat at Northallerton did little to change that, although it did blunt an immediate march on York.

I noted when I wrote about Dalton’s book Conquest, Anarchy and Lordship that he thinks that the largely undocumented battle at Clitheroe, also in 1138, which the Scots won, was more important, as it gave David a springboard to approach Yorkshire from the west, through the Aire Gap. This might be so, but Stringer thinks that the Scottish domination of the Ribble – Mersey area came a bit later, but was extant by 1141.

In 1149, an unlikely combination of David I, Ranulf of Chester and Henry of Anjou approached York in force. Scottish power had been building, and English royal power waning sufficiently in the north fro Henry to accept that the far north would be part of an extended Scotland. York as a second capital would greatly enhance not only David’s territorial jurisdiction, and his jurisdiction over the bishops of Scotland (over whom the Archbishop of York claimed precedence) but augment the wealth he had to use. York was, after all, an ancient trading centre and also had a mint.

The world was a complex place in the north (as everywhere else, it seems). There were extensive links between the Anglo-Norman barons of northern England and those of southern Scotland. Indeed, they were often the same people. There were also ecclesiastical links. David I founded a number of abbeys in southern Scotland and some of the nobles did as well. These were often daughter houses of English abbeys, and many of these houses held lands on both sides of the border, as did their benefactors. In all the links between northern England and the southern Scottish polity were stronger than between the former and the souther English polity, including the monarchy.

Of course, David did not take over York. Stephen, in one of his few forays north, raced there ahead of the allies and they dispersed. Stringer suggests that 1149 is a decisive date in British history, preventing a (so to speak) northern powerhouse reducing England to the Midlands and South. Of course, Henry of Anjou, when he succeeded as Henry II, simply bullied the new (and very young) king of Scotland into giving up all his forebear’s gains, and the border settled on the Solway – Tweed line, more or less.

There is great potential here for a wargamer with Anglo-Norman armies and a bit of imagination. What if the alliance did capture York, and Henry then became King of a reduced England? Ranulf of Cheshire had his own problems with the Welsh, and so could be taken in the rear, at least from the point of view of invading Yorkshire. If David’s son Henry had not predeceased his father then he would have been the older and more experienced monarch, although the combined forces of Scotland and northern England may well have been less than that of the midlands and south. On the other hand, Henry II was constantly distracted by the business of Normandy. There is a lot of potential, a lot going on.

Other essays are also interesting, but not so much as a wargamer. The essay on Yorkshire nunneries is fascinating (reminding me of a line in 1066 and all that: ‘what have you done with your mother-in-law? If nun write none’). Also interesting are the pieces on the fifteenth-century north (were northerners barbarians? No, its just how southern chroniclers characterised them Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose). Also the role of women on the Anglo-Scottish frontier in the sixteenth century, and the dissolution of the monasteries (linked to the Pilgrimage of Grace, of course).

Overall, highly stimulating. But I’m still not buying an Anglo-Norman army.

Saturday 24 July 2021

Low Stakes Wargames

It is probably just me, but sometimes wargaming just, for want of a better phrase, gets on top of me. I survey the numbers of unused soldiers, the number of unplayed games, and the number of unpainted armies and, not exactly despair, but suffer from a mix of ‘I’ll never get this lot done’ and child in a sweet-shop syndrome.

Further to that, I suffer from being a perfectionist. Not, admittedly, in painting, I have neither patience nor talent for that, but in wanting the games to be the best possible that I can do, particularly when they are part of a campaign narrative that seems to be going along quite nicely. The stakes are somewhat raised in these circumstances, for me at least.

Many people’s response to this would be, quite rightly, to say ‘Just put some toys on the table and play’. Wargaming is, after all, a hobby of the comfortable middle class Western liberal, and it is just a hobby. There may be, as has been explored on the blog from time tot time, ethical, political and certainly historical issues tied up with it, but really worrying about those things are a case of seriously over-thinking the whole thing.

Perhaps, but I can’t help myself sometimes. The Estimable Mrs P. Is now an experienced hand in managing her husband’s peculiar moods. When I moaned about not being able to decide what to do, she fixed me with her beady pastoral eye and observed that I had been flogging it recently and should take a break. When asked for clarification she listed what I had been doing recently (painting Bavarians, a Russian village, undercoating Persians, and a few games) and said I had been overdoing it. I was banned (not exactly, dissuaded from wargaming) for a week.

The return was also discussed (albeit at a later date when I’d stopped sulking). A low-stakes game was suggested. I mentioned before that all painting a no gaming makes for a frustrated wargamer, and so a wargame, to remind said frustrated wargamer why the painting and other things happen, was on the cards. By ‘low stakes’ is meant a game where the ramifications, either for painting or for a campaign, are relatively unimportant.

When allowed back into the wargame snug, I flicked through my blue battle book (the book is blue, not the battles) in which I record the games (usually one to an A5 page, with army list and sketch of field) to find a low-stakes game. Eventually one popped out: Portuguese Colonial against Omani. The astute reader might recall a previous game where the Portuguese landed to raid a market. Another game was suggested of a counter-raid by the Omanis on a Bedouin camp (there is a dispute about the purchase of camels). A few dice rolls later and the scene was set.

The picture is a little blurry but gives you the idea. The Portuguese set up fairly evenly distributed to defend the village. The Omani decided to try to outflank it by deploying on one side. The idea was to march move in column to the side of the village and then attack the hopefully misplaced Portuguese.

The Omani plan started promisingly enough, with the cavalry and one column of infantry moving into place.

The cavalry are protecting the flank of the moving column, while the Portuguese frantically attempt to realign their troops to the threat. What happened next really showed a difference in generalship. The Omani cavalry, under command of the general charged and was repulsed, losing a base to the Portuguese Arab blades and the shot due to the Portuguese general being on the spot to turn the troops. Thus irritated, the Omani general took the remaining hose and charged the just arriving Portuguese Bedouin allies, causing the camel to flee and pursuing them. While he was occupied the second infantry column marched sedately past the Portuguese foot, to be charged in the rear and routed. Five bases down, the Omanis threw a withdraw (and lucky they did not rout, I think).

As I said, there was a difference in generalship. The Portuguese general spent his time and extra tempo point in re-arranging his men. The Omani general got stuck in. By the time the first outflanking column was in place he was too far away to stop them, and they advanced too far. The second column faired worse, as he was cheerfully pursuing some routed light camels and failed to stop the infantry in the right place, or even order them to deploy in the face of the Portuguese foot.

So, there you have it. A low-stakes game. In terms of the campaigns, it has no influence. While this one is vaguely connected to the previous game, the connection is vague in the extreme. The Vietnamese against Khmer (or Burmese, I cannot remember) are a bit like that. I am unlikely to get too emotionally attached to the armies and the campaigns, such are they are, are even more episodic and disconnected than the main narratives I use. Thus the stakes are low. I have little concern that I will sit back and think ‘that wasn’t right’, because there is even less ‘right’ about these games than the others.

I am pondering the march moves, however. The Omanis simply did not get the tempo points to stop them marching, so they marched right across the board (in one case) and right across the front of the enemy (in the other). In part this was my fault – I did not plan for bad tempo rolling and the general was too far away from the marchers to stop them. In part this was because of a rule decision that troops in march column do not automatically stop or deploy. My thought was that if the general is foolish enough to allow his march columns to be attacked, then it is only his own fault that they fight at -2.

So I was, so to speak, hoist by my own petard on that one. Still, I enjoyed the game, and that was the point, after all.

Saturday 17 July 2021

The Siege of Tsarputinsberg

Colonel? … Colonel Cranium Sir?’

‘I heard you the first time Amnesia.’

‘It is nice to have the fortifications completed, isn’t it sir?’

‘It has been a long time coming, captain.’

‘Good of those Cossack labourers to come in at the last and offer to help. We would never have got bastion four finished otherwise.’

‘It would have taken a while. Anyway, Amnesia, it looks like we are going to be testing them shortly. The Polish army arrives tomorrow, I reckon. And they have siege guns. And ladders.’


Have star fort models, will conduct wargames. However, while various fortifications have been the backdrop of a number of wargames discussed here, a full-blown siege has not been conducted. This is for the usual wargamer reasons for the absence of sieges: they are long, boring, tedious, often inconclusive, hard to model, and so on. Plus, there are few decent (or even bad) sets of rules around for sieges. They just do not have the excitement of a battle.

I dare say that a number of people will now claim that this or that ruleset has siege rules and they are fine, but what there is seem expensive and, also, outside my time period. Still, in cases like this there is nothing for it but to make up your own rules. So that I what I have done.

I will try to get around to PDF-izing the rules and putting them as a link to the rules page linked from the right there. In the meantime, a quick summary will suffice. The rules are driven by the normal Polemos tempo bidding system. This time, each tempo point allows the player with the tempo to turn a card. A suitable suit (red for besiegers, black for besieged) gives a result, which can be anything from another engineer arriving to a break being opened in the walls. There is a contingency for mines and countermines, magazines blowing up, and trenches flooding, but not starvation and disease because my wargames are civilised affairs where such things do not occur. It might also be because I have not worked out a timescale for the turns (probably one turn is one day, but maybe not) nor how to do the accounting. As with all my rules, the information regarding the state of the armies has to be encoded on the table. I do not like making notes and rosters, nor do I have the memory available for every nuance.

It all sounds very posh and organised, but it isn’t. While I have typed the rules up now, they were a scribble on an A4 pad. Still, I have given them a couple of run-throughs now and am quite pleased with the results.

First of all, here are Colonel Cranium and Captain Amnesia on the town walls. We are back in Tsarputinsburg where the fortifications have now been completed, and our officers are watching the enemy deploy. The discerning reader might note that I have discovered the macro lens on my camera; do not be too hard on the painting, these are 6 mm figures.

The first run-through of the rules involved some cheating on my part and led to the eventual surrender of the fortress after about a pack and a half of the cards. The cheating was ignoring attempted escalades and sorties, rolling dice for the outcome rather than reverting to the tactical rules. I determined to have another go, and, after one phase, the results are below.

The Polish siege lines are in the top left corner, and the fortress is bottom right. You might note, incidentally, the Russian village is now painted and is being defended. In the first game, incidentally, the Muscovite magazine exploded.

In the second game, the Poles won the initiative and turned up some explosive cards. Firstly, they hit a defender base (the streltsi with the shaken marker by the gate). Secondly, a Muscovite magazine blew up, causing the loss of the cannon on the central redoubt and three hits of damage to it (out of four). Finally, they drew a breach card, leading to the demolition of the bastion, as seen.

On Colonel Cranium’s turn, he drew a sortie card. This seemed fair enough to me – with the gate defences nearly gone and a breach in the bastion, there was not much else he could do except surrender. So a sortie was fought out, between, mostly, the artillery on each side, the cavalry (of which the Poles had the bulk, of course), and a few Muscovite town cossacks. This was a difficult and hard-fought combat on both sides. Both lost two bases, although the cavalry base under Cranium’s direct command distinguished itself, defeating some Polish hussars while being themselves shaken. Anyway, both got to withdraw status and so did. The sortie had not managed to damage any siege works, although with his next and last card Cranium managed to destroy a Polish battery.

At this point, I had to do some pondering, and morale checks. The Poles came to ‘temporize’, while the Colonel threw ‘negotiate’. You might note from that that both sides were rather damaged by both the first turn and the sortie: the Poles were on morale of -5, the Muscovites on -7. A further dice roll decided the outcome. Colonel Cranium and his men were allowed to march out of Tsarputinsberg with the honours of war.

It was a wild, fun and, at times, hilarious game. I am not entirely sure about the rules as yet, but it was good to get the fort into action, and the Russian village. A lot depends on the turn of the cards – the first game was a lot slower than this one, with operations impeded by the sappers and engineers becoming casualties. There might be some more development needed.



‘Yes Amnesia?’

‘There is a Polish general outside wanting to see you.’

‘What does he want?’

‘He has a piece of paper; he says it is a contract for our employment in Polish service.’

‘Oh. Show him in.’

Saturday 10 July 2021

The Story so Far…

 It seems only fair that having worried about how many figures I have in my lead pile that I give some sort of update as to how my assault on it is going. We all have such unpainted lead piles; I hope my offering might give some encouragement.

Army                      Foot     Cavalry     Other      Total

Polish GNW          48         48                                  96

Danish GNW          8                                             8

Officers / snipers     9                                             9

Sappers                  12                                             12

Scots                      48            18                              66

Muscovite              102         75                            179

Civilians                  39                                          39

Gunners                  33                      13                   46

Irish ECW              48                                            48

Anglo-Dutch WSS 56          30                                  86

Totals                      403         171     15                      589

So, there you are. Since the last count, I have been keeping a spreadsheet of how many figures I have painted, and how many are left to paint. This sounds rather sad (it probably is, but I like to keep my hand in as basic Excel stuff). I reckoned, I think, that I could manage perhaps one thousand 6 mm figures a year and, roughly six months down the line, I am about half-way there.

A more detailed look would throw up some anomalies. For example, in my original counts no sapper, officers, snipers, gunners or civilians were mentioned. These came about in various ways. Firstly, as I have mentioned, I obtained an Irregular star fort at Christmas, along with the sappers, and that inspired me to paint up some Irregular siege officers and the snipers which I already had. The sappers came with the Irregular siege works pack, along with some trenches and other bits and pieces which have, along with the star fort itself, been painted and might hit the table sometime fairly soon.

The civilians were a chance find in my unpainted lead box. I have painted some of them before, I am sure, and they were left-over from an old project on the Scottish Borders in the late Sixteenth Century. Unfortunately, one of them had broken off at the ankles (hence the odd number), but the rest are now safely painted and based.

The Polish and Danish GNW figures have been in action in the GNW in an Afternoon project. For newly painted bases, the Poles did fairly well. The Muscovites have been covered in a few posts from bare metal to in action. They seem to be a quite entertaining army, with a large proportion of cavalry which leads to rather quick and decisive actions.

The Scots ECW painting has been in two parts. Firstly I found a number of highlanders who had been undercoated by never painted. I suspect they were part of the same Borders project the civilians were intended for, but I cannot quite remember. These were finished alongside some of the Muscovites. The cavalry are the first part of a large-ish order I got from Baccus about 18 months ago, designed to beef up my Scots (who had no cavalry) and also to provide extra shot for the infantry I do have. These infantry too were originally aimed for the Borders project, but have been ‘repurposed’ This was along with the Scots lancers, many of whom are painted but a number of which are still pending. The painted ones have been in action in the Armada Abbeys campaign, of course, and done rather well.

The Irish ECW painting was part of the same batch from Baccus. This is the second regiment of three bases of Irish infantry. I am still at a bit of a loss as to what might constitute ECW Irish cavalry. I dare say I shall rope in some Scottish or possibly English ECW horse for the purpose. I do not think that the Irish horse from the Sixteenth Century forces will cut the mustard; I doubt that by 1640 the Irish were in mail.

I suppose that the other thing to mention is the number of wargames which have taken place. Part of the idea of keeping count was to stop me being haunted by the hordes of grey armies and driven to paint (which I am not keen on) rather than have games. The problem is that if I get driven by the painting I get bored and forget the purpose of the whole thing. So, to date, I can report 15 battles having been undertaken, all except one have been reported here. The missing one was a Hussite one which was a trial of some rule modifications which were rather crazy in the battle, even though they seemed reasonable on paper.

So, ‘what next? I hear you cry. Well, as you can see the Anglo-Dutch WSS army has finally been painted after, I estimate, 20 years in undercoat. The first part of the Bavarian WSS army have been undercoated and are waiting their opportunity for some colour, pleading with me not to leave them another 20 years in black. I am also working my way through a Russian village, having painted the church and undercoated some houses.

After that, given that most of the above are early modern figures, I have a feeling that a return to the ancients period is on the cards. I am quite enjoying the ancients battles and the rule developments, and I think that another go at Marathon with some Persian infantry reinforcements might be on the cards. The early Persians also constitute the biggest part of the ancients unpainted lead pile, so to get the numbers of grey Persian foot down under two hundred would probably be a nice thing to have done. After that, I might well try to reduce the pile of Irish ECW infantry below two hundred as well, although at present I do not have a particularly good idea in mind for their use. I am sure it will come.

As for wargames, I am trying to alternate painting and gaming weekends. The assorted campaigns will continue when I can think of the next scenario which fits in with the narratives. Jules will have a final battle in Britannia, for example, and the Sarmatian civil war needs resolving. Mind you, the Imperial Romans were starting to duff up the Dacians when they were hit in flank at Temeshvekovar, so it is possible that they might have another go at recovering their gold and imposing their authority on the natives.

We shall see, but it is nice to have all these ideas flowing, as long as I do not get crushed by the collapse of the lead pile.

Saturday 3 July 2021

Isabella’s Bonfire

‘You want to do what?’

‘Make a hell burner ma’am.’

‘Don’t you need ecclesiastical authority for that, not mine?’

‘Not exactly, ma’am. A hell burner is a ship filled with gunpowder and set on fire.’

‘Won’t it explode?’

‘Exactly, ma'am. The idea is to sail it into the middle of the enemy fleet and set them on fire.’

‘Won’t they try to get out of the way? I mean, at Gravelines the English ships did not set any one of Uncle Phillip’s on fire.’

‘Correct, ma’am. But if the enemy ships were in a confined space, or otherwise undermanned, then they could not get out of the way and would be, so to speak, toast.’

‘What sort of confined space are you talking about?’

‘Suppose it was a small harbour at dawn on a high tide, ma’am. Where the crews are mostly on land and there are a lot of other things going on as well.’

‘What sort of other things?’

‘Well, ma'am, landing parties in the harbour and on the shoreline, perhaps some naval bombardment of the town, maybe an invasion going on at the same time.’

‘So what, exactly, are we talking about?’

‘Onetee harbour ma’am. It is chock full of Dutch ships, and we have just secured Teetwo on the other side of the estuary. It would seem a shame to miss the opportunity of at least damaging the Dutch fleet, even if we cannot seize the harbour.’

‘Why could we not seize the harbour and the ships?’

‘Well, ma’am, there is the small matter of the Dutch army camped just outside the town. It seems better to at least attempt to fire the ships and land, rather than to attempt to land and risk missing the ships.’

‘Very well. Isabella’s hellburner it is.’


Those of you with a decent medium-term memory and an interest may well remember the scenario. The Spanish, in 1631, attempted to seize ports near Bergen-op-Zoom by sailing there. The Dutch navy responded and there was a small dust-up. The result was that part of the Dutch navy took refuge in one of the Spanish target harbours, T1, while the Spanish seized T2. Next, the Dutch army attempted to recapture T2, now dubbed Teetwo for wargame purposes but failed due to a spectacularly successful flank attack by the Spanish navy. This has led to the situation where the Dutch are rather precariously hanging out in Onetee as described above.

To the left, looming out of the dawn is the Spanish small boat fleet (or around half of the original, actually) together with Isabella’s hellburner, aimed at the harbour. In the port, you can see the Dutch half-fleet and to the right the camp of eight bases of the Dutch army. The twelve are made up by a regiment in the village, of which a base of shot are on guard, and the gun, seen this side of the village. If you look really closely, you can see a guy with a telescope on the jetty.

I confess to having had considerable doubts about this scenario. The Dutch started off deployed, but that seemed too easy for them, so they were stood down into their tents. The plan was for a messenger to go from the lookout to the village and thence to the gun, whose firing would raise the rest of the camp. The weather incidentally was fair and the wind was blowing up the table (you can see my markers on the far side). It was a turn or two before high tide.

I had a bit of trouble deciding on Spanish tactics as well. Finally, I got their sword and buckler men (dismounted cavalry) to hit the harbour, landing outside the walls at high tide, while the fireship entered and caused mayhem (hopefully). Meanwhile, two regiments of infantry would hit the near side beach (the other was ruled out because of the stream) form up into anti-cavalry formation (shot – pike – shot to give the shot +1 in combat with mounted) and then move towards the Dutch camp.

This was a complex battle to run. I had to keep an eve on the weather, the wind and the Dutch waking up. Further, the Spanish landing from ships or small boats were disordered, as were the Dutch when they woke up, except for the shot on guard in the town. Dutch foot waking up took three terrain shaken markers, the cavalry took four. Needless to say, I ran out of terrain shaken markers again, even though the Dutch camp was very slow to wake.

The penultimate positions are above. The Spanish sword and buckler men have taken the village – the remains of the infantry garrison can be seen fleeing. The Dutch artillery has been overrun and the reason there is little smoke in the harbour is because the Dutch ships immolated there have mostly burnt to the waterline and sunk. At this point I called a coffee break and considered the Dutch position and whether to fight on. I decided to do so but the next move found the Spanish infantry in contact with the weakened Dutch foot in the centre and the shot were routed (while the Spanish shot pushed back the Dutch pike – it really was not their day). The rout of the shot swept away the newly woken foot behind them, and they routed the reiters behind them who had just mounted up. The Dutch were now seven bases down, giving them -2 morale level. A dice roll later and they routed.


‘So, we won?’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘Excellent. Did you catch another general for me to tease?’

‘Unfortunately not, ma’am, but we do have Onetee harbour as a new base to choke Dutch trade with, and quite a few charred ships.’

‘What are we going to do with them?’

‘Some might be salvageable, ma’am. We are getting our shipbuilding experts onto the case.’

‘Do we have any shipbuilding experts?’

‘We’re hiring a few Dutch ones, ma’am.’