Wednesday, 9 October 2019

The Legions of Rome; the Catuvellauni of the Downs - Ancient Sharp Practice

When my mind drifts back now, it is images rather than a coherent narrative which present themselves to me: mist rising from horse lines in the thin keen wind of a morning by the Danube; long marches, the men ankle-deep in mud behind creaking wagons, as the beech and ash woods of Germany enfold us; a hill-top in Northern Spain, when snow fell below us in the valleys but we lay on dry, iron-hard ground under the stars; grizzled centurions lashing at the transport horses, yelling at the legionaries to put their shoulder to a wheel that was spinning as if in mockery of their efforts; a boy with blood oozing from his mouth as I rested his dying head on my arm and watched his leg kick; my horse flinching from a bush which parted to reveal a painted warrior, himself gibbering with terror; the sigh of the wind coming off a silent sea; the tinkle of the camel bell across desert sands.  Army life is a mere collection of moments.” (Augustus, Alan Massie)


One of the wonderful things about watching a new wargaming period evolve, and a new set of rules coming together, is the impact it has on the imagination of wargamers.  Something along those lines is happening at Lard Island these days.

As some of you might know, Richard and Nick have been play-testing a new set of rules for Ancient warfare.  No doubt there’ll be more of this in future TooFatLardies Oddcasts, but for the moment, let’s just call the rules “Ancients Sharp Practice”.  Or, if you prefer, “Infamy, Infamy” – a name which might raise a smile if you’ve ever seen a particular “Carry On” film from the 1970s.

Both Richard and Nick – but particularly Richard – have been hard at work developing the rules, painting the figures and brushing off some of the terrain we made for Dux Britanniarum.  In doing so, they’ve been building on the terrific work of other Lard-enjoying wargamers who’ve already been using the “Sharp Practice” rules for the Ancients era.

Exciting times indeed, and doubly so when you see the troops being arrayed on the tabletop for the first time.  

Last night’s clash was set three miles from where I live – near the small Hertfordshire village of Wheathampstead.  These days, the village is a very pleasant stopping point for cyclists on the Chiltern Cycle-Way, or a flashing blip on the B653 as you drive past on the way to either the M1 or the A1, travelling somewhere else.  

But in the first century AD (or CE), it was the frontier between Rome and Britain.  The local tribe, the Catuvellauni, were fierce, proud warriors who may well have led the British resistance to Julius Caesar in 54 BC.  The tribe minted coins, and built impressive defences – still visible today at ‘Devil’s Dyke’, just a long stone’s throw from the playing fields where my son’s football team plays on a weekend.  

I digress, but only to mention that history has a way of catching up with you in the most unexpected of places.

On the tabletop, we witnessed a truly impressive array of British chariots, warbands, slingers and skirmishers facing off against a force of Roman legionaries and auxiliaries, advancing through wooded terrain to quell a Catuvellauni insurrection.  Already, some of the features of the game are coming to the fore – the balance between different methods of fighting (Roman corporatism against tribal heroism), the importance of cohesion and control, the focus on the decisive moment of the melee.  It’s shaping up to be a very fine set of rules – and, like Dux Britanniarum, all the more interesting for your humble Blogger being on the ground floor of the Temple of Venus, so to speak.

I know, dear readers, I know – I’m hopelessly biased.  But hopefully you’ll still enjoy some of the battle reports to come….

Take care and fare you all well until next time, Citizens of Rome and proud daughters and sons of the Catuvellauni!

Monday, 7 October 2019

Enfants Perdus: French Flanders and Laarden, 1688

A letter, from Don Fernando de Torrescusa, Marquess de Girona, Envoy of His Most Catholic Majesty, Carlos the Second, King of Spain, to the Count of Tilly, Lord General of the Flemish Free City of Laarden, February 12th, 1689


My Lord,

I am five leagues to the south of Sint Vaalben, accompanied by the battalia of militia from that town.  I send this letter with Field Deputy van Gloow, who has informed me of the dispositions of the King of France against your forces in the Field.  He will, I trust, on his return to you, my Lord, communicate the severity of the threat to your position.

Beware of those ragged companies advancing forward against you, my Lord.  They are very dangerous.  They appear to be the shattered remains of a brigade of foot – ripped and torn musketeer children, orphaned from their parent pikes.  But, watch how they advance my Lord?  They will move quickly when you do not imagine them to be capable of it, stealing the difficult ground under the eyes of their captains.

Do not be deceived, my Lord, for those are no defeated enemy.  The King of France sends his lost children forward before his main advance, to seize the valuable parts of the Field.  You must not cede the woodlands or the bad ground to them.  It is a test, my Lord, and the Duc de Luxembourg will be watching to see how you respond.



I was a little unsure of which of the French battalions of foot for the 1688 Laarden campaign to blog here first. I thought it might be a good idea to bring them to the blog as they might arrive in the field – we’ll see how long that logic lasts!

So here are four small formations of the Sun King’s “lost children”, or Enfants Perdus as the sources of the time described them.  They are the French equivalent of the English 'forlorn hopes' and German 'verloren haufe', which crop up in Renaissance history books and wargames rules from time to time.  I’ve based them in companies of six, so that they can operate alone, or together – most likely in advance of the French main battle line.  Formations such as these were present at Les Dunes in 1658, seizing important points on the sand dunes and bluffs in the face of the Spanish and Royalist English battalions.

I drew the figures from a range of manufacturers – mainly Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry - and tried to create a non-uniform ‘look’ to the soldiers.  I mixed up the uniforms as well, with the coat and cuff colours being drawn from a variety of regiments.  The standards (from GMB Designs – thank you Grahame) are from parent battalions – I chose Dauphin and Royal, mainly because I had them to hand.  I'm of the view that having any standards carried by the Enfants Perdus is a bit far-fetched – if the soldierly children in advance of the main battle line are expected to be hazarded and lost, the last place you want the precious regimental standards to be carried is by these troops!  

But, they look good – and visual appeal won over good military sense (not for the first time, dear readers).

The rounded corner bases are deliberate.  I’ve been using these for units which are formed and drilled, but which might be able to gain a movement or formation bonus in action – perhaps signifying a faster, or looser, formation.  Over the years, we’ve found that having something visual on the tabletop to be easily recognisable in a game, and also forming part of the rules, can be very helpful in practice.

There’s some green-stuffing going on with the feathers and lace on the hats of the French soldiers.  I’d like to have added more, but - after doing a few – I did wonder if less was more, at least for the rank and file.  The process is very simple.  Just roll up a small ball of green-stuff, add it to the figure’s hat and shape it with a sculpting tool into whatever French-ified lace knot you feel is appropriate.  It gets addictive – well, at least for the first thirty or so.   

It’s a relatively easy way of giving your battalions a more personalised look, and was something which the early armies of the Sun King were well known for.

The bases are from Warbases, and the tufts are from WSS and Mini-Natur.

I had a photo session with this summer’s painted figures this weekend, so hopefully I can add a few more of the French in the next few days.  All the best until then!

Friday, 6 September 2019

"The Art of Discoverie": Reconnaissance, 1688

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

Time is such a disconcerting thing.  

Although it had been fourteen years, nothing had changed to show the passage of time on the low, gloomy Flemish hills and frost-crackled downlands encircling the territories of the free Flemish city of Laarden.  The smell of the earth was the same - rich, cloying, infused with damp. The sky was still pewter grey - had the sun even visited here once in the last decade?  And the wind, buffeting from the north and the German Ocean, flayed at my face just like it had done, fourteen years ago.

They had nearly killed me here, back in 1674, near to the village of Sint Vaalben. On a Flemish hillside just like this, only wreathed in smoke and the sound of wounded and dying horses and men all around me. Under a Flanders sky, like this one. 

I spurred my horse gently to the top of the downland, to a long ridge crest which gave a fine view of a cold, winter landscape of thick woods, more open copses, folds in the ground, ploughed fields, small villages and – in the distance – the spires of Laarden itself.  The downland crest was occupied by a single rider, watching the same view from his horse silhouetted against the sky. 

He was stationary, not even looking in my direction. His horse was squat, short legged, little more than a child’s pony, with tack and bridle made from rope. He was dressed in a coat the colour of dead leaves and a cap of filthy sheepskin. I turned, confused and bewildered to the sergeant of the Dragoons de Fimarcon riding beside me on the hillside. “No, really?”, I asked, wondering if this was a joke. 

The sergeant, looked at me with eyes as black as the wine of Cahors, shrugged and spat on the frozen earth. “Von Kroneberg does things differently”, the dragoon replied. “But.... my Lord, he’s good, and fast. And he knows how to find the Enemy.” Another shrug from the sergeant, a pause, and a knowing look.

I grunted and spurred forward to the horseman who was still sky-lined on the crest of the hill.  Somehow, I could tell the rider knew I was there. Once I was twenty paces from the rider, both he and his horse turned perfectly to face me, in a movement more fluid than oils moving on the surface of water. No one rides like that who wasn’t born in the saddle. 

I saluted the man slowly, and he tipped his lance. “Von Kroneberg....?”, I asked, waiting for a reply. His eyes never left mine as he reined in his horse and cantered from the downland, watching me through the descent.


“Goose Thief”. “Night Stalker”. “The Prince of Ponies”. “Liar”. “Mercenary” “Master of Discoverie”.  

Baron Hans von Kroneberg had many names, and even more titles, and all of these were dwarfed by his soubriquets.  Hans von Kroneberg was the name he had finally settled upon. But in the battlefields of Germany, Hungary and Poland, few commanders were overly concerned with the accuracy of a captain’s name, provided he brought his promised troops to the field at the allotted time - and providing, of course, they fought well. And for all his wretched lies, falsehoods, immoralities and arrogance, Baron Hans von Kroneberg and his hussars, Croats, Poles, Lithuanians and other horsemen fought very well. 

I had seen them before in Germany, paid by the Sun King to serve along the Rhine and in the Palatinate. And I had heard of them in what the Germans call the Türkenkrieg.  Of course there were the familiar stories of plundering, being absent from the line, thefts, trouble in the camps and quarters wherever they were billeted.  And, just as frequently, there was the more welcome news of Kroneberg’s horsemen riding hard, scouting effectively, and possessing an usual skill in finding and facing off against the Imperial Horse.  

By the time the tartar scout had led me to von Kroneberg’s encampment, it was growing dark on a late February afternoon.  Unlike before, the Baron von Kroneberg rode out to meet me and the Fimarcon dragoons in my party.  He was, perhaps inevitably, dressed flamboyantly, and surrounded by a cloud of hussars and Croats, into which my tartar escort vanished like smoke in the cold evening breeze.  

I summoned all my tact as I addressed him. “Greetings Baron, we have marched north since we last spoke and are advancing on Sint Vaalben, and Hoedveld.  We were expecting that you would have joined us earlier”.  I restrained myself, although mindful that the Duc d’Humieres and the Duc de Varennes might not be so forgiving for the faux-Baron’s tardiness.  

He inclined his head, and reined in his chestnut mare, and smiled.  And then he laughed, a sound which was accompanied by some of his company of horsemen.  “Lost your way already, Marquis?  Shall we help you find the Enemy?”  

It’s been a little while since I blogged this next installment in the story of the (fictional) Flemish city of Laarden’s campaigns against Louis XIV in 1688 and 1689.  Apologies for that, dear readers.  It’s been a fine, but busy, summer – which I hope you have all enjoyed.  

On this blog this time are a few figures I completed earlier this year – with a French commander (the Baron von Kroneberg) being accompanied by a hussar and one of the dismounted dragoons de Fimarcon, and a small group of other hussars and dragoons.  Much to my shame, I confess that these figures started out being prepared last December for the ninth Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge, for the themed rounds of “Reconnaissance” and “Mercenary”.  Better late than never, I’m sure.

For those wondering – yes, the Baron von Kroneberg was a real French commander of hussars.  From being the talk of the Versailles salons, the Baron was dismissed from service in 1692, apparently for conduct unbecoming a senior officer in the Sun King’s army.  I came across a number of mentions of him having a shadowy past – and, with a little literary largesse, I’m sure he can become a mercurial commander in the field, or an interesting figure in a campaign.  The Baron is a Dixon Miniatures cavalry commander, mounted on a Wargames Foundry horse, accompanied by a Dixons dismounted dragoon, and a TAG Lithuanian Tartar – all in 28mm.

The tartar is another refugee from the “Reconnaissance” themed round in last winter’s Challenge.  He is, of course, pure alt-historical fantasy.  I can’t rule out the odd one or two tartars making their way into the French army in the Thirty Years War, the Fronde or the wars of Gloire under Louis XIV – most probably as a member of a company of “Croat” horse.  However, if this happened, he would be a unique, and colourful, addition – which is why I only painted one.  Apologies in advance to my many historical purist friends!

More to come from Laarden soon, with the arrival of the French foot as the march on Laarden gathers pace.  Hope to catch you all next time.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Regiment de Provence: Laarden, 1688

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

The Comte de Grignan has never been a man to do things without excess.  As the King's lieutenant-general in Provence, his duties have included spreading the warmth of Le Roi Soleil's rule to every corner of that already sun-drenched land.  His existence is an extravagant one, presiding each year at the opening of the Etats at Lambesc, seated on a throne-like chair with the Archbishop of Aix on his right and the Intendant of Provence on his left.  Nor is he a man who prefers modesty.  I well remember how, after he had taken the town of Orange by siege in 1673, he presented the keys of the citadel to Louis Le Grand in a theatrical ceremony at Versailles involving a silver salver of seven oranges from Valencia.

Wealthy, charming, graceful, talented.  And now, as my servants in the Royal camp had informed me, he was in Flanders, accompanied by one of his newly raised regiments from southern France.  They had marched through the winter, the journey through Besançon, Reims and Cambrai being well provisioned by the Comte's merchants.  Russet-brown coated soldiers, and gaudy scarlet-uniformed officers loudly swaggered through their winter quarters after arrival in French Flanders.  Brassy trumpets and newly skinned drums proclaimed their arrival in any winter review in which they were present.

Le Regiment de Provence.  I smiled, of course.  I clapped appreciatively.

But Flemish winter warfare will, doubtless, be very different to campaigning in the lavender hills of Provence.  Here, in Flanders, marching to the drum under weak sunlight and over the clay-soil's cold caress, many finer regiments than the Comte de Grignan's have floundered against the Flemish and Germans.  

What a shame for the Comte that the sun rarely breaks through the leaden skies over Laarden.


So, accompanied by an uncharitable, and  no doubt deeply jealous, entry from the Marquis de Montchevreuil's war-diary, I've posted some photos of the newly finished 28mm figures for the Regiment de Provence.  Formed in 1683, by the (historical) Comte de Grignan, the regiment was a feature of the historical campaigns of Louis XIV in the Nine Years War in Flanders and Germany.

The figures are a mixture of Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry, all in 28mm.  The finials on the regimental standard are from Bicorne, with bases from Warbases and tufts from WWS Scenics.  I did a few small conversions to some of the figures, adding some shoulder-lace on the grenadier figure and a hat feather or two.  Other than that, the figures are pretty much as you can purchase them from the manufacturers.

I painted the standards myself, on account of them being pretty straightforward.

One of the themes I've been thinking about lately has been relationships between the various French commanders in the army of Louis XIV.  I very much doubt that the camp was as fractured, poisonous and waspish as I'd like to imagine - but the tensions were definitely there.  It's a theme which might play quite well in a multi-player wargame.  Something to return to in a future post, perhaps.

Hope you can join me next time, when we'll be back on the Flemish downland with a charlatan and an unusual horseman.

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