Saturday, 15 January 2022

Corbie 1636

 As you might imagine since the end of the Armada Abbeys campaign recently, I have been vaguely looking for another pseudo-historical set of games which might be played. You may recall that the Armada Abbeys campaign was based around a portion of the Spanish Armada breaking away and landing near Whitby in Yorkshire, and an enjoyable sequence of battles was had from that conceit.

Thinking of something else has proved to be a little difficult, although I have managed to keep up with other wargames as well as a bit of painting. Still, something English Civil War-ish seemed to be the best bet, in part to inspire me to paint the infantry reinforcements that arrived at Christmas.

As I may have mentioned, the problem with ECW campaigns is that they seem to fall into two classes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with either; I am just not sure they suit my taste (which my regular reader might be aware is hardly mainstream). Either you go with a county, either a historical one (with a Speed map reproduction) or a fictitious one, whereby you can make up all the names and have fun. I seem to recall one out there in the blogosphere where most of the names seem to be taken from BBC Radio Four’s The Archers.  Good fun and quite amusing, but probably not for me. I have done the real county thing and got totally bogged down, as well.

The alternative seems to be the whole war, which again I have seen in the blogosphere, and it could be done. But, again, I have tried this and got totally bogged down. So these sorts of things just do not suit my wargaming ‘style’, whatever that might be.

Conundrum in mind, I received the January 2022 issue of History Today, where the cover page article was ‘Charles I’s affair with France’. “That should interest you”, the Estimable Mrs P remarked. And, as so often, she was right.

It is probably widely known that the overriding aim of Charles I’s foreign policy was the restoration of his nephew Charles I Louis of Palatine to the Electorate lost by his father, Frederick V in 1620 (the Winter King). This too was James I & VI’s foreign policy, and by the mid-1630’s the policy so far, which broadly favoured Spain, had not worked. Charles also had to deal with a court faction which demanded war with the Hapsburgs in favour of Europe’s Protestants, who had been rapidly losing ground since 1618.

The Spanish position in the Low Countries was propped up via the Spanish Road, as series of roads, bridges, and forts from northern Italy to the environs of Luxembourg. In the early 1630s the French had succeeded in cutting this route by annexing Lorraine. This put Charles in a key position – the only way the Spanish could reinforce the Low Countries was along the English Channel, which meant that Charles and his newly minted Ship Money fleet was now a major factor in the escalating war.

Having vaguely, but unsuccessfully courted Spain in the earlier 1630s, Charles now opened negotiations with France, offering to block the ‘English Road’ and Spanish reinforcements in return for the exchange of part of the Lower Palatine for Lorraine. This came to nothing, but Louis XIII and Richelieu were interested in the alliance, because they could ill afford Charles’ navy to be used against them in alliance with Spain. England and France had engaged in a naval arms race in the earlier 1630s and both could deploy powerful navies, but not against an alliance of foes.

In 1636 the French military position was poor. The Spanish had invaded and captured Corbie in Picardy and were threatening Paris. Many, many years ago I remember an article in Miniature Wargames titled ‘The Year of Corbie’. I think the Spanish aim was to invade Picardy, Lorraine and also in the southwest of France, or possibly from Savoy. Coordination of Seventeenth Century strategy being what it was it promised more than it offered. Nevertheless, the memory triggered in idea for a semi-ECW based wargame or, hopefully, campaign.

The French in reality prevaricated, and Charles made a series of placatory and hostile gestures, hoping that the French would agree. The sticking point was that Charles would not agree to send land forces to fight on the Continent. I suspect that this was probably because Charles could not afford it, but I am not sure.

By 1639 the French military position was much better, and Charles’ domestic position was a lot worse. Charles was still interested in the alliance, but the strategic situation was revolutionised by the Battle of the Downs. This was deeply embarrassing for Charles, as the Dutch and Spanish had fought in English waters under the eyes of part of the English fleet (the rest was in Scottish waters after the first Bishop’s War).

The destruction of the Spanish fleet meant that the only way the Low Countries could be reinforced from Spain was via England itself. The Spanish had been reluctant to talk to Charles before because Maximillian of Bavaria, who was propping the Hapsburgs up in Europe, wanted to hang on to the Palatine. The Spanish position was desperate, however. They needed to land troops in the West Country and march them to Dover where they could slip across to Belgium. Charles, of course, needed money.

This rapprochement meant the end of the projected French alliance and the rejection of the anti-Hapsburg, anti-Catholic faction at court. The Leicester – Northumberland circle at Charles’ court could feel rejected, especially as Charles’ domestic policies could and were construed as pro-Catholic, even to the point of Charles and Laud being accused of re-catholicising the country by stealth. When the Short Parliament met, they supported the Pembroke – Pym faction in both Commons and Lords and the rest is history, or civil war, at least.

After that preamble, let me rewind to 1636. The first action to take place seems to have been the Spanish siege of Corbie, which, if I recall correctly, caused panic in Paris when it fell…



  1. Mrs P was not only right, she was extremely right🙂 It sounds interesting and looking forwards to what unfolds.

    1. Tune in next week for another thrilling instalment...