Monday, 13 January 2020

"Shattered" French bases: Sint Vaalben, 1688

From the letters and diaries of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, Grand Écuyer to His Highness The King of France, French Flanders, 1688

"When an entire Victory is obtain’d, he who hath lost the day should not lose his Courage too, but ought to gather up his Shipwreck, rally his dispers’d and broken troops, get new recruits, dissemble his losses, encourage his party and draw to a head again; these are things practis’d by all intelligent Generals."  

Sir James Turner, Pallas Armata, Chapter XXII

I never had much time for English or Scottish writers on military matters.  Most of their experiences of battle were in the British Wars, before I became a soldier.  The King of England had sent companies and regiments to His Majesty's armies in French Flanders in '72, but it was a strange business.  The forces were tiny compared with the French regiments under our command, even if their commanders were of a most striking appearance.  But, more of Lord Monmouth another day.  

It is enough here to mention that writers such as Sir James Turner, however well-schooled in the warfare of the classical ancients, can never have seen a true "Shipwreck" on the Field of battle.  It is, of course, hard to "rally ... dispers’d and broken troops", and still harder to recover those formations once fully shattered in the Field, the Officers dead, the standards lost and the troops utterly spent.   

Being able to "...dissemble ones losses..." is, naturally, something I attempt to do on every occasion - whether at the gambling salon or on the Field of Mars.  But one's enemies are bound to conflate a gruesome butcher's bill in retaliation.  And as for the sentiment that "...he who hath lost the day should not lose his Courage too...", my thoughts are that such sentiments do rather depend on the extend to which the enemy has shot musket balls into your body or pierced your flesh with a rapier blade.

Fourteen years gone, and I can still see the place where the Flemish cavaliers had nearly killed me.  Not every single moment, perhaps, as much fades over time - as I'm sure you know.  But I remember more than enough to bring back the sharp pain in my shoulder and side whenever I think of that nasty, drab little Flemish village, nestling like a toad in the Autumn mud.  It had been raining, of course throughout the whole of that day before the village of Sint Vaalben.  It had still been raining when the Flemish horse had broken into the flank of the cavalry du Roi, scattering my squadrons in their moment of supposed triumph, our mounts forced down under the press of horses as we were pushed back into our infantry.

Hard to "....gather up his Shipwreck...." after floundering on such muddy shoals, Sir James.  


So, a brief snippet from the black bile-laden pen of our French companion, the Marquis de Montchevreuil to accompany some shattered bases of French foot and horse for the use on the tabletop.  Much as I love Sir James Turner's "Pallas Armata", I do wonder if some of his encouragement seems to be in the vein of an armchair general.  More from Sir James later this year, I hope...

In the meantime, for anyone wondering if these form part of Challenge X..... No, dear friends, they do not!!  I painted these figures last Autumn, but never got around to posting them on the blog, or anywhere.  

Part of my 2020 plans for the Blog is posting quite a lot of painting I've done but never got around to putting up here on the Blog.  What holds me up more often than not isn't so much the painting as creating the fiction and snippets of angry letters and diary entries which our Spanish and French fictional companions write to accompany the photos!  I know, it's strange - but sometimes life's like that, dear Friends!

So we have three "flight" or "shattered" bases for use with the French troops in the Field.  The standard being waved around is the Regiment de Flandres, which was a regiment of good-standing and (I think) one of the petit-Vieux regiments in the French army, denoting a very respectable but not ancient regimental lineage.  Whatever their provenance, they are having a very bad day.

The troops are from a variety of manufacturers, being 1st Corps, Wargames Foundry, Dixon Miniatures and Perry Miniatures.  The drum is by Redoubt, with some extra green-stuff denoting a ripped drum-skin.  I added some extra green-stuff feathers on a couple of figures, but apart from that the troops are shown as you can purchase them.  The Bases are from Warbases and the finial is from Bicorne.  The lovely tufts are from WSS Scenics.  The standard is hand-painted.

I love doing these bases, which can then take the place of routed formations on the tabletop battlefield.  While I hope they're still respectful, they do point to seventeenth century battles being unpleasant and bloody affairs, as well as raising issues for how formations of routed troops would move off the Field, or remain on it, during the battle.

And next time, I'll be adding some things from Challenge X.  Hope you can join me here for that, later this week.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Happy New Year 2020!

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you and your friends and families all have a wonderful 2020 and thank you all for following this blog over the past year, and indeed the past decade.

As you'll have seen, over the last year my blogging has become less frequent - which is a great shame as it is something I definitely enjoy.  No doubt it's because - like many of you - I've been more active on Twitter than Blogger.  And the distractions of modern life, family, work and commuting have, again, been, present.

But, all this being said, I looked back at my blog over the past few days and enjoyed re-reading some of the nonsense I've been posting over the past year, a great deal of which has been about the fictional town of Laarden, set in the late seventeenth century Spanish Netherlands.

The good news for 2020 is that I don't intend anything different.  Shock... surprise... bewilderment!  No major announcements, or New Year's resolutions, Sidney?  No suggestions of any new periods, or changes of social media?  No, dear readers, none at all.

OK...OK.... I do promise to try and blog here more often - but that's only the softest of new Year's resolutions, I think.  But apart form that, I'd like to bring you more painting, figures, modelling and fiction from the strange, distant, through-a-glass-darkly world of 1688 Flanders.

So, with that in mind, perhaps this year you might: 
  • come face to face with the fearsome Gendarmerie of Le Roi Soleil;
  • trudge along the muddy roads of Flanders with a group of straggling soldiers;
  • witness the miracle of Sint Jacobus' golden fishing net;
  • inhabit the shadows of a town in darkness with a man who cannot be seen;
  • trade and negotiate for lucrative tulip contracts on the Laarden bourse;
  • discover the strange secret of a Prince of the Blood.

All that, dear readers, and much more nonsense besides...

A degree of this foolishness is being driven by Curt's Tenth Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, but hopefully this year's fun will stretch long past late March when the doors close on what will be another wonderful Challenge.

And, as this Blog has been going for almost a decade, since 26 January 2010 (..I know, how crazy is that?...), I'll be looking back at some of the past nonsense I've been posting here over the last ten years.

So plenty to look forward to in 2020, and (hopefully) something for everyone.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Three Vignettes from Laarden, 1688

The Blacksmith's Bargain

From the letters and diaries of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, Grand Écuyer to His Highness The King of France, French Flanders, 1688

“Lame?  Really?  Lame…?  How can my best horse have gone lame on the downlands, not three leagues from here?”  

I stared at the blacksmith in the small Flemish hamlet, and looked helplessly at my écuyer, Jerome Dubras, as he held the bridle of my favourite, chestnut mare.  Dubras’ hand carefully  calmed my horse as the Blacksmith lifted her rear left fetlock.  The chestnut mare, for her own part, shook her head, looking in another direction, as if trying to deny her inability to negotiate the roads and pathways across the chalky Flemish downland, close to the village of Oestveld. 

“This is ridiculous.  Barely three weeks in Flanders, the campaign hardly started, and my best horse now lame….”.   I struggled to prevent the complaints tumbling from my mouth.  Sometimes the world seemed very unfair, even for the Grand Écuyer of the King of France.  

“How on earth ….how on EARTH am I going to ride to the Duc de Varennes, now?”.  I stared at Dubras, who shrugged and continued to stroke my horse’s neck, pretending not to be standing there.  

I heard a cough, and a phlegmy rasp from the blacksmith's throat.  “If your Lordship has need of a second horse, my cousin has a most fine stallion, in midnight black, over sixteen hands, but lithe and fit, barely four years old.  A most wonderful ride, my Lord.  Intended for one of the auctions at Laarden, I’m told.  I’m no expert, My Lord, but I’m sure a bargain could be struck….”.  The blacksmith looked at me, lifting his eyes to meet mine.  

“Indeed, my cousin had mentioned he was only looking for two-hundred-and-twenty livres for the stallion, My Lord…. Nothing to a gentleman of your quality”.

The blacksmith’s yard seemed to fall silent for a second, and I saw Dubras turn his head away, barely suppressing a smirk. “Two HUNDRED and twenty livres?  What kind of horse is your cousin breeding…..a centaur?  Pegasus himself?”.  

I scowled at the blacksmith’s impudence, who simply looked back and replied to me “No, no my Lord, just a horse fit to ride before one of the Dukes of France.”  I was speechless.  

Dubras’s smirk evolved into a throaty chuckle and I saw him reach into the saddlebag of my mare, grasping my purse, fully aware I was about to add a new stallion to my stable.


A Chicken, Duck and Goose in Every Pot

"Agnes, get the chickens and ducks into the barn, quickly now.  We need all of them for the Comte de Vermandois and the Duc de Varennes' table tonight.  The French commanders always welcome the finest poultry.  Quickly, quickly child... we promised all twenty-four of the ducks, and four of the geese as well.  Agnes.... Agnes.... where are the geese?  Quickly, my girl.   

"Now, Michaela, drive the pigs to the old barn... we need those to be on the Laarden road, bound for Sint Vaalben this evening for the Graf von Bek and his Imperial horsemen.  And add a large barrel of the finest beer for "The Harvest Goose" in Laarden - Joseph can take it on the cart if he sets off early enough, before the Croats block the road...

"And, Maria, bring me the farmhouse accounting ledger.... If anyone is getting wealthy from this war, it might as well be my family..." 


"The Jewel of Flanders"

From the letters and diaries of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, Grand Écuyer to His Highness The King of France, French Flanders, 1688

Waspish. Vain. Parasitical. Arriviste. Brutal. Savage. Preening. Sarcastic. Selfish. Worthless.

My wife, the Marquise de Montchevreuil had called me all these names, and no doubt many more when I was out of earshot. 

She had never been impressed with “La Vie Militaire”.  Reciting the battle honours of the actions at which I had been present in Germany, Italy and Flanders drew very little praise from my wife, especially when the roof in the left wing of the chateau of Montchevreuil was leaking badly.  Ensuring that the demi-lunes of Courtrai were in the possession of Le Roi Soleil failed to command her interest once her wedding gown was ruined with flood water.


Marie-Charlotte Annette de Hilarion, Marquise de Montchevreuil, was never what I would call a ‘military companion’, still less a soldier’s wife.  Her interest in my campaigns stretched only to a detailed knowledge of the scurrilous Flemish and Dutch propaganda pamphlets which blackened my name. Admittedly, such pamphlets were the foulest of propaganda, but in a blazing domestic argument I found it hard to blame my wife for using anything readily to hand.

With such thoughts in mind, I was therefore nervous to leave the chateau of Montchevreuil for the Laarden campaign of early 1688.  I had decided to soften the disappointing news of my departure - and inability to supervise the repairs to the left wing of the chateau - with a small, but heartfelt, gift.

A pair of large pearl earrings and a pearl necklace was my attempt to excuse my absence for another nine months in the field against His Majesty’s enemies. I had commissioned the present from a small jewellers’s shop on the Rue des Capucines during my last month in Paris in 1687.  I had often found it useful to have a token of appeasement to hand in the constant hostilities which have framed my marriage of political convenience and occasional domestic harmony.  I had the pearls presented in a small custom made box of dark cedar-wood, with marquetry on the lid illustrating the arms of my family House. 

The jewels were reasonably well received when I presented them in the formal garden, with my Lady’s spaniels looking on disinterestedly. She stared at the open cedar-wood box, a thin smile on her lips. 

“I suppose this is my compensation for you leaving to make His Majesty a gift of Laarden - is it not known as ‘The Jewel of Flanders’, my love?”  She looked at me, intently.  Clearly the focus of our campaign was far from being a secret.  “A collection of pearls for me, while you try and seize 'The Jewel of Flanders' for Le Roi Soleil … yes?”

She was as difficult to satisfy as ever. “There might, in the event of the surrender of the City of Laarden, be other trophies I might be able to bring you, my love...”, I floundered, accompanying my words with a polite incline of the head and a flowing caress of my hand towards her pale blue silken gown.

“Hmmm…. Really? Hmmm.”  I could tell she was under-whelmed, her fingers snapping shut the lid of the box before lifting it from my outstretched hand.  “Let’s all hope the silk from your captured Flemish standards can repair the leaking roof”.  I traced her eyes to the left wing of the chateau, once again eagerly counting the hours until my departure. 

So, three small but hopefully fun vignettes to place on the wargames table to help tell these, or other, stories.  The blacksmith and Jerome Dubras are from Wargames Foundry.  The resilient women from the Flemish farmlands, adept at supplying both combatants at a profit,  are from Redoubt Miniatures - with ducks and chickens from Warbases, and geese and pigs from Magister Militum.  

The Marquis and Marquise de Montchevreuil are, respectively, from Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry.  The Marquis underwent some drastic surgery to remove his right hand, with a new hand and cedarwood box of jewels being added with greenstuff.  The spaniels are also Redoubt, and the sundial and flowerpots are scratch-built in a moment of madness!

More tales from Laarden next time - I hope you can join me for those!

Friday, 25 October 2019

Poitou and Montfort: French battalions for Laarden 1688

From the letters and diaries of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, Grand Écuyer to His Highness The King of France, French Flanders, 1688

I never had much time for the Conte di Fortunato. Like a number of Italians in the service of our glorious King, he had a confident and fulsome opinion of himself. All exquisite manners, glittering abilities and a nastily sharpened stiletto in the back if you crossed him. It takes one to know one, of course - maybe I saw too much of myself in my Milanese nemesis. Put simply, he was a rival.

“This is the Century of the Soldier”, he loudly announced in the Council of War called by the Duc de Varennes, in mid-February, shortly after my encounter with the faux-Baron von Kroneberg, in the coldest season of the year. The Council of War had been discussing the deployment of our brigades in the campaign against the rebellious city of Laarden. Dispatches from von Kroneberg’s Croat horsemen and our dragoons bore sombre news of a growing defensive network of Flemish villages, reinforced by earthworks and small fortifications, bristling with pikes and militia standards, standing in the way of our army’s advance.

I was not overly surprised. I’d campaigned in Flanders before and knew how unforgiving the Flemish terrain and Imperial commanders could be. Yet not all of my brothers-in-arms were of like mind or experience.

“This is the Century of the Soldier”, Fortunato repeated, more loudly. “Victory lies with the progress of many battalions, drilled and trained, uniformed, stubborn and proud”. His gloved hands even caressed the air and indicated two battalions of French foot arrayed close to the command tent where the Duc de Varennes had summoned us.

The dense ranks of soldiers continued their exercise of arms, presenting pikes and muskets, drilled and capable in the frozen air, the loudly shouted orders of their officers clearly audible to all in the command tent. The stamping of their feet on the iron hard ground seemed to be motivated as much by the fierce cold as by martial discipline, however.

I turned the words of the Conte di Fortunato over in my mind. The Century of the Soldier? Really, my Lord, I reminded myself as I smiled appreciatively in Fortunato’s direction, my velvet gloved hands clapping politely to respond to his intervention. Tell me a century which has not belonged to the soldier, his swords and his armour, his violence and his chaos? This is not the Century of the Soldier, however the Duc de Varennes might have enjoyed that Milanese turn of phrase from Lord Fortunato.

No, my Lord, I thought to myself. This is the Century of the military logistician. The Century of the military financier. The Century of the grain magazine. The Century of the enterpriser. I looked over from the command tent to the battalia exercising in the fields, recognising the standards of the regiments of Poitou and Montfort, noting their new uniforms and muskets, the fresh glint of bright steel from the pikemen’s breastplates. This is the Century of the livre, florin, guilder, ducat and Louis d’Or - this, my Lord Italian, is the new way of warfare for this age. Money, money and money - as another, more insightful, Italian once wrote. Money not to buy weapons but to purchase food, clothing, rented winter quarters and wagons laden with fodder for the supply train horses.

And yes, my Lord Fortunato, that is another way of fighting the Flemish.

Soldiers may fight battles. But without money they are like a hard frost in midday sunshine, however rare such an event might be in a Flanders February.

As mentioned in the last Blog post, I’ve been painting steadily through the summer – if not quickly – and trying to complete the battalions of French foot and squadrons of French horse for my campaign setting of 1688, based around a fictional (though historically-inspired) Flemish city of Laarden. There’s a few more to come, but here you have the battalions of Poitou and Montfort.  Both battalions are historical, and both served in Flanders and along the Rhine in the 1670s and 1680s. The figures are 25mm Dixons and Wargames Foundry.  The lovely standard for Montfort, in red and white triangles imposed on a white field, is from Flags of War.  The bases are from Warbases, and the flag finials are from Flags of War and Bicorne Miniatures.

I tried something new with both battalions.  You might have heard on one of the recent Oddcasts that I was trying out Vallejo Model Colour Washes for the first time.  For some reason, washes have, until this summer, passed me by.  I have no idea why.  I think it was partly my sense that, somehow, washes were messy, uncontrollable and imprecise.  I know, I know…. I should not listen to those little voices in my head, dear friends.  

I decided to give the washes from Vallejo a try, after watching a You Tube video of someone really using them very creatively.  They’ve proved to be terrific fun.  I doubt they have saved me much time, as I’ve mixed the washes and applied them almost like a layer of paint, sometimes a couple of times.  But I have really enjoyed the way they can create a layer of colour on the figures which is variable and slightly translucent.  I found that mixing Vallejo Model Wash ‘Umber’ with ‘Grey’ worked very well to create a dirty, unwashed, campaign “look” for the coats in the Montfort battalion.  I don’t think I could have done this with a dark grey base coat on the figures. 

The other thing which the washes helped with was the feeling of painting fast.  Even with washed area of figures I needed to re-paint (if the wash was too thin), I felt I was definitely getting somewhere.  That was a great feeling.

The standard for Poitou was very simple (symmetrical red and blue squares), and I painted that myself.  I love painting the standards by hand, although it is really a labour of love - far quicker to use the excellent standards from Flags of War or GMB Designs.  Yet there is something about a standard you’ve painted yourself.  It’s never, perhaps, quite as finely traced as a computer version.  The lines are never as straight.  But there is, I feel, something very “1980s” about the whole experience of painting a wargames standard.  Am I the only one who, as the glorious years of wargaming slowly pass by, feels the tug of nostalgia for the 1980s (or whenever each of us started the hobby) just a little more strongly?

Turning to our waspish correspondent, the Marquis de Montchevreuil, I thought it was fun to turn around the fine quotation - "This is the century of the soldier" - by the Italian poet and diplomat, Fulvio Testi, in 1641.  As for the Marquis' reference to another quotation  - “To wage war, you need first of all money; second, you need money, and third, you also need money", is from the great Imperial commander, Montecuccoli, who we might find, in the Marquis' letters yet to be published, the Marquis also encountered at some point in his campaigning.

Next up on the blog are some more French, a couple of vignettes, and some teasers and ideas for the rest of this autumn and the winter to come.  Hope you can all join me for those, dear friends.

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