Monday, 22 April 2019

The Council of Warre: The Year of the French - 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 was not surprised. If anything, I was faintly amused. Not enough to laugh, but enough to smile, wryly, at the Sieur de Lombez whose clear pale blue eyes met mine across the huge oak table in the Chateau de Gagnac, near Valenciennes, where the Duc d'Humières had established his entourage and court. It was draughty, cold, damp and unwelcoming. It reminded me of home. The room was filled with more than fifty courtiers, commanders, diplomats, plenipotentiaries, supernumeraries and even a Prince of the Blood (lingering in the shadows by the corner of the room, laughing at the less interesting parts of the Royal campaign proclamation, being recited by the Duc in theatrical tones).

“.... and through the region bordering the lands of our Kingdom, annexing lands promised to the Kingdom of France in the Settlement of Veurne, crossing the Reutelbeek and the Horebeek, and then the River Laarde, and taking the villages and towns of Bruglette, Moerslag, Grobbeldonk, Sint Vaalben, Aardensdam ...... “

The list and the direction of the campaign was impressive. An uncharitable observer of the Duc’s sweep of his heavily jeweled hand might conclude most of Northern Europe was to be included in the Grand Chevauchée . Few locations in Flanders appeared to be spared in the King’s proclamatory pilgrimage - I even caught the name of that unpleasant little village of Sint Vaalben, where the Flemish cavaliers almost killed me twelve years ago. 

I wrestled my mind from luxurious dreams of revenge as the Duc continued the King's proclamation:

“.... and then to the gates of the so-called Free City of Laarden itself, to accept their obeisance and acceptance of their settlement into the Kingdom of France.”

The Duc rolled up the papers of the Royal Proclamation and handed them to a bewigged Versailles flunky, accompanied by a well orchestrated burst of applause.

To be honest, I had heard more rapturous and inspiring commencements to a campaign. The Great Condé's opening speech at the start of the last Dutch War had been truly memorable, but then he was drunk and most of what he was shouting was libelous and concerned the personal habits of the Comtesse de Crillion. So, quite obviously, we all enjoyed listening to that.

By contrast, the Duc d'Humières' style was more self-reverential, as if a little of the Sun King's ambition might run off on the Duc’s avaricious and pudgy fingers. Whatever the reasons - whether it was the deeply uninspiring leadership of His Grace, Le Duc, or the absence of saucy stories about a notorious libertine - I detected the applause being just a little muted as the Sun King’s proclamation was finished. Or maybe it was because of the damp atmosphere of the old hall in the Chateau (old miser de Gagnac clearly didn't go overboard on the firewood sputtering in the heart of the inaptly named 'great fire" fizzling in the back of the hall). Or maybe it was the lateness of the hour in that mid-December evening. 

Or possibly it was the inconvenient fact that, of all the maps scattered across the table by the Duc d'Humières, I knew that none of them were remotely accurate. I picked up the corner of one - signed in an extravagant hand “Patrice de Colequin, Gentleman of Bordeaux, 1547”. No doubt Flanders and it’s principal towns may have looked as depicted on the map, at least when viewed from the vantage point of a Gascon winery, but I was confident that the pewter-grey fields close to Laarden possessed no mountains, and still less a ravine. There was also a noted absence of sea-serpents in the German Ocean, at least when I had sailed along the coast of Flanders. De Colequin’s map masked several other catographical aberrations scattered over the table. One of the other maps was of the City of Genoa (useful for the Grand Tour I would be in need of after this campaign was done), and a third was of the northern Levant. Both were only marginally less useful than de Colequin's “True Map of Flanders and the Citie of Laarden”.

I caught the Duc’s eyes, narrowed and icily judgmental, as I fingered de Colequin’s magnum opus. I could almost see his mind calculating under his heavy eyelids. I knew what he was going to ask, anyway. His jumble of imaginary drawings of mountains, ravines and palaces would be useless in answering the one question I knew he was about to ask. I lifted a gloved hand and swept the air with a gesture almost as encompassing as the Duc’s own.

“No need to trouble your cartographers, your Grace. I’m sure I can remember the way with the vanguard”.

I fashioned a glittering smile, trying not to think of the flooded land, the stench of black-powder smoke and the battles of twelve years before. Remembering the way was the easy part.


So, yes, more Laarden 1688 nonsense from me.  As i mentioned last time, I've been working through the various late 17th Century miniatures i had prepared for painting in Analogue Challenge IX but didn't have the chance to paint through the winter.  This small vignette was the first to feature on the painting table - only, it never got there over the winter.

Slightly delayed, here it is now, finished.  the miniatures from from the Dixon Miniatures "grand Alliance" range, with some conversions.  The champagne glass and bottles being enjoyed by the marquis of Montchevreuil are from Scotia-Grendel, and the gabion is from Frontline Wargaming.  The champagne bucket, maps and dispatches were scratch-built/ scratch-drawn.

I hope you enjoy nonsense such as this featuring our French correspondent fr the french campaign in Flanders in 1688, the Marquis of Montchevreuil.  I admit alt-history is an acquired taste, but I quite like creating narratives such as this.  And its a lot easier than reading and translating 17th Century French.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

"Come and have a Go if You Think You're Lard Enough": Southampton, 23rd March 2019

Regular readers of this blog will know that the odd break of a couple of weeks is nothing new. However, looking back at the last post - urggghhhh, sorry, it really is from 2018 - I do feel an apology is in order. Although I managed a couple of posts in the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge over the course of the winter, it was far 'below par' by contrast compared to what I managed in Challenge VIII. “Real Life”, as they say, got in the way with a couple of pretty intense work assignments. 

It was a great shame, especially as I had some fun things to paint. But, please don’t despair! In our time-honoured tradition at Roundwood’s World of never letting work distractions get us down, I hope to be making good on those missed Challenge IX projects here, on the Blog, during 2019, now that “Real Life” has become normalised again.

And, as a sign of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, the return to lighter evenings, and as a way of re-starting the blog for 2019, I thought I’d kick off with an “On The Road” report of a couple of recent gaming events I’ve been to recently.

First up - “Come and Have a Go if You Think You’re Lard Enough!”. No, not a late night exclamation around our wargames club tables on a Tuesday evening, but a cracking day of gaming and camaraderie in Southampton, England, staged by friend-of-the-blog, and all-round wargaming superstar, Mark “Peaches” Backhouse. Setting up any hobby event from scratch takes a certain amount of vision, and insanity. Setting up a wargames event, for 50-odd gamers takes even more vision and insanity. But, on the 23rd March this year, that’s what was happening in Southampton with a great days wargaming in a local community centre featuring 11 games with the theme of the TooFatLardies rulesets being used throughout.

A fine event, faultlessly organised by Mr B, and even featuring a fair few wargaming celebrities including Henry Hyde, Guy Bowers, Rich and Nick (my co-hosts on the TooFatLardies “Oddcast’) and Neville Dickinson from Minifigs, back in the mists of wargaming history. Yes, dear readers, wargaming royalty and glitterati right there.

The event more than lived up to expectations. I had two wonderful games of Sharp Practice, the first set in the exotic world of Boshin War Japan, and the second set in the more familiar surroundings of the Shenandoah Valley, circa 1863. The iPhone photos don’t do either game justice, both of which were umpired to the highest standard by Colin and Bob.

Colin's Boshin War action was a pretty close run thing. Playing the Japanese, my first instinct was to think we didn’t have a chance. Facing British regulars and a Naval Detachment of jolly Jack Tars is not a pleasant early morning surprise when you’re commanding Japanese ashigaru only recently acquainted with a musket. However, being able to defend their own patch, using interior lines, and having the help from a (frankly terrifying) company of Japanese police armed with katanas meant that the action was a very close run thing. Our Japanese forces captured the fiendish British and European merchants (no doubt confiscating tea, high quality writing paper, fountain pens and other vital European weapon systems), and almost held out behind improvised barricades until the last moment. Deeply enjoyable, and my thanks to my fellow players!

After a good lunch, I ended up helping (or, as is so often the case, hindering) my fellow player on the Union side in the second of my games at the event, staged in the Shenandoah Valley in 1863. 

Tasked with removing a supply column from the clutches of Johnny Reb, things were not going too badly about half way through the game. We had successfully extracted our supply column from the table and were then poised to gracefully withdraw our fighting formations to the union side of the river, out of harms way. Meanwhile, Union engineers carefully prepared the bridge for demolition. 

What could go wrong? 

Well, there are two fateful words in the previous paragraph - “bridge” and ‘demolition”. The dice Gods had their entertainment making the Union roll uncharacteristically highly, accelerating the speed of the demolition preparations, right up to the point the the bridge prematurely exploded, with the Union forces on the wrong side. As tactical disasters go, this was up there with the best of them.

We managed a 'fighting retreat', but as swimming the rider was not something the union troops had prepared for, honours were deservedly taken by the Confederate side!

So, two fantastic games, both played in a fine spirit, and a wonderful event all round. A huge thank you from me to all the players, umpire, attendees and a big shout out to Mark for organising the event. And, since we were interviewing a few hardy souls for the TooFatLardies "Oddcast", a big shout-out to Charlie also, who very gamely agreed to be interviewed by yours truly.

Next up on the newly spruced-up blog, I'll take a look at Salute 2019, before cracking on with some details of what's been on my gaming and painting table recently. Hope you can join me for that!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge IX

It is, dear friends, that time of year again. The nights in the Northern Hemisphere draw in, the weather gets colder, leaves fall from the trees… 

And from all corners and parts of our planet can be heard the varied sounds of metal being filed and sanded, flash being carved from 28mm miniature figures and paintbrushes applying Humbrol matt enamel undercoat, as participants prepare for the annual Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge.

This year will be the ninth such Challenge, and my seventh (if I am counting correctly). It is one of my favourite hobby events of the year, as wargamers around the globe have fun painting miniature figures over the winter months when the weather is chilly and unwelcoming – or sit in shorts and tshirts in wonderful places like Australia and New Zealand and wonder if their airbrushes can work in the heat.

This year, I’ve gone for an ambitious target of 850 points. I made it to 1,272 points last year – but that was a special kind of Challenge for me as regards painting. Let’s see if I get off the starting grid before getting too excited for Challenge IX.

And before I say much more, three cheers for Curt (the organiser of the Challenge), Sarah (his wonderful and long-suffering wife), and all the Challengers past and present (and their partners and loved ones) who make the Challenge such a special event.

It’s possibly not giving too much away to reveal that, with the Flemish and Spanish forces for Laarden 1688 almost finished, its time for me to paint their adversaries, in the shape of the armies of The Sun King, Louis le Grand.

For those not bored enough to have clicked away from this page (thank you, patient friends), we will have a new, French, guide to the impending campaigns swirling around Laarden in 1688. I am very sure that you will be in the best of velvet-gloved hands in the company of the Marquis de Montchevreuil, the epitome of a courtier-soldier from the salons of Versailles.

Devotees of Don Fernando de Torrescusa, Marquess de Girona, Envoy of His Most Catholic Majesty, Carlos the Second, King of Spain should not be downhearted however. Don Fernando will certainly still be featuring on the blog through the winter months, along with his somewhat picaresque companion, the Flemish cavalier, Antoine de Gautier.

So, here are possibly some clues to things which might be happening here, on Roundwood’s World, in the next four months.

I hope you can join me for at least some of the fun.  

But now, as they say, 'every journey starts with a first prep'.  There's metal to be filed, and sanded, and undercoated... 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Brothers of Calatrava: Laarden, 1688

From the journal of Don Fernando de Torrescusa, Marquess de Girona, Envoy of His Most Catholic Majesty, Carlos the Second, King of Spain, to the Flemish Free City of Laarden in 1688. 

I had seen them before, of course. In Spain, at El Escorial, and on the battlefields of Flanders and Germany. They were far harder to notice in the monastery palace of El Escorial than in sunlight. They had a habit of remaining in the corners of rooms, in doorways, slightly behind the fashionable dark wood screens shielding parts of a salon from view. Their clothing helped, as it does with priests, spies, assassins and sellswords of all kinds. And the Brothers of Calatrava were all these, and at most times together, in one.

Well, at least according to the legends. 

I’ve never been a great believer in rumours, and still less in legends. There’s always some mundane human truth at the root of a legend. Something prosaic and earthy, usually with the stink and rasp of a dungheap.

The Brothers wove the rumours and their legends together very skilfully in the Court of our Most Catholic Majesty, Carlos II. And that, dear friends, was no accident. As soon as the King revitalised the ancient order of Calatrava on his accession in 1661, there were no shortage of grandees and nobles at Court who saw an opportunity to tie their fortunes to those of the Brothers of Calatrava. 

At first, we laughed behind our hands. The Brothers were viewed as a tiresome anachronism. A medieval memory in faded black cloth - an illustrious name maybe, but shorn of any real authority. But then the Royal grants of lands, titles and positions started to be made, and things began to change. Status, money, access, influence and power – accompanied by a cascade of gold from the New Spain placed into the hands of the Brothers - facilitated an effortless rise to prominence for the Master of the Order.

Yet even despite the changing tide, in the early days most of us at Court agreed that there was little that the group of two dozen noblemen could do with a borrowed medieval name, dressed in black and praying in a Castilian fortress chapel alongside the Jesuits, to displace the intricate networks of patronage and power in El Escorial.

Ah…. but that was before Seneffe.

That was when I first saw the Brothers of Calatrava on the field in Flanders. I can almost see your smile from here as I write this page of my journal in my rooms at 'The Harvest Goose' in Laarden. “The Swords around the Throne”? “The Brothers in Black”? “The Lances of Calatrava”? Were there any more titles you wanted to bestow upon the Brotherhood to add to their reputation after that most violent of days?

Oh, there were many other reasons why the Garde du Corps from the Maison du Roi were vanquished on the field of Seneffe. I saw it with my own eyes, of course.  The ground was soft and bad for the French Horse to be deployed there. They were constricted, the flower of the Sun King’s household crammed into the narrow Field like fattened geese before St Stephen’s Day.  There were more standards among the front lines of the Garde du Corps than swords that morning. And, besides, I had never considered the Comte de Vermandois to be among the first order of the French King’s commanders. All these, and no doubt other explanations - and no doubt excuses - could be offered for what happened that day.

And yet it happened. And yes, I saw it all. 

It was impressive, watching the handful of the Brothers of Calatrava slice through the nobility of France like the Black Plague of Naples.

There were eighteen Brothers on the Field that day at Seneffe, although less than a handful survived to the next morning. But that handful was more than enough for the legends to spread, and the rumours to spiral, with even more vigour than the Brothers’ charge into the heart of the French lines.

And now I hear there are to be upwards of forty of the Brothers of Calatrava in Flanders, answering the Free City of Laarden’s call to arms. Of course, I shall not turn them away.  I have told you already that I have never believed in rumours, and still less in legends. 

Yet, if I see a miracle happen a second time, maybe even I might start to believe.


It's been a while since I visited Laarden on this Blog, and a while since I posted anything. Sorry for the continued silence! Hopefully this post might make up for the absence.

The cavalry in white and light grey are from the Walloon tercio of Horse, raised and funded by Don Nicolas de Puis between 1675 and 1692, when the tercio passed to Don Philippe Gourdin. The figures are both Dixon Miniatures and Wargames Foundry, all in 28mm, and most of them being sculpts from the last 1980s and 1990s. I think they have passed the test of time pretty well.  The details of the uniforms of the Walloon tercio of Horse and very much historical, taken from the wonderful Pike & Shot Society book on the uniforms of the Spanish Army in the War of the League of Augsberg. Unfortunately, no details of Spanish cavalry standards for the period exist, and I’ve adapted the standard from an infantry flag captured by the French at the battle of Fleurus in 1690. The flag is freehand, as sadly no-one seems to print flags for the Spanish tercia of horse in this period.

The Brothers of Calatrava are, however, not historical.  At least, not in 1688.  The Order of Calatrava was essentially nothing but a moribund, inactive order of chivalry in Spain by 1688.  Yet, with a little 'alt-historical' magic, hopefully the Brothers of the Order can take to the field again on a wargames table. 

The figures of the two Brothers are again Dixons and Wargames Foundry. The lance was from Redoubt, and was shortened down a little. The standard was again freehand, and was taken from the standard of the 13th century Order of Calatrava. I painted the two Brothers in black, as a throwback to their historical origins in the true Order of Calatrava. I wanted to leave them as being a small addition within an existing formation – which is why the Brothers of Calatrava are accompanied by four more soberly uniformed Spanish horsemen

I really like messing around with ‘alt-history’ in this way – creating historical formations for the wargames table which did not actually exist at the relevant time of a battle, but which could plausibly have done. I did something similar with the Baltic Horse of the Graf von Bek earlier this year –  and despite some good humoured ribbing from my friends, not grown out of the habit during 2018!

The bases for the Brothers of Calatrava are larger than those for the Walloon tercio of horse. This is deliberate for a number of reasons. In the rules we’ve been trying out, faster horse has a slightly larger base profile than slower horse (the larger base, and rounded base corners making it easier to identify the faster cavaliers on the tabletop). As regarding their use in a wargame, I reasoned that the Brothers of Calatrava could either be used alone, or to add some bonuses (and possibly some less predictable features) to an existing unit of horse.

For anyone wanting to dive into the historical Order of Calatrava, their background is much more remarkable than even their exploits on the field of Seneffe as described in Don Fernando de Torrescusa’s journal. The home of the order was the Castillo de Calatrava la Nueva – certainly somewhere I’d love to visit one day.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Siege of Portsmouth, 1642 - The Other Partizan, 2018

You might remember that a while back I staged a couple of refights of the battle of Lützen in the Thirty Years War, using 2mm scale figures. Although most of my wargaming since then has involved 28mm figures, the interest in 2mm scale battles and campaigning has never left me.

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of joining my good wargaming chum, Mark Backhouse, in helping run his wonderful 2mm Siege of Portsmouth, 1642 game at The Other Partizan show in Newark, England.

Mark’s game is really fantastic, and graced the pages of issue 90 of Wargames Soldiers and Strategy – including a full campaign guide and ruleset. I really enjoyed the article, and was very keen to play when he asked me if I’d like to join him at the show. It also gave me the chance to model and paint some of Rod Langton’s wonderful 1/1200th scale Anglo-Dutch ships – more of which in a follow-up blog post to this one.

I’ve included some photos of the game in this post, which played very smoothly in the morning and afternoon of the show. We had a fantastic group of players through the day – thank to everyone who took part, and indeed for everyone who dropped by to say hello.

So, what made this game fun to play, and interesting to take part in? I’ve tried to set out my thoughts below, in no order of priority.

(1) Different Possibilities: I’m often at pains to say to my friends that wargaming in 2mm scale does not make a “better” wargame than any other scale, but it does open up a number of possibilities which can be harder to realise in the larger scales of 10mm, 15mm and 25/28mm. The ease of painting figures (really, figure ‘blocks’) in 2mm make armies simple to prepare, build and paint. (For those new to the painting process regarding 2mm figures, I’ve uploaded a guide on painting 2mm figures in the sidebar of this blog.) That leaves more time for terrain making and rules design and play-testing.


Mark made the Portsmouth terrain a year or so back, but added a new board in the space of only a week before The Other Partizan. As with my terrain for Lützen, I think we’ve both being surprised how quickly you can make 2mm terrain look eye-catching and appealing to play on.

(2) Helping the Figures: Time saved in painting figures and making terrain means that you can have more time to research, think through rules and perhaps be inventive in other aspects of the 2mm wargaming process. I think 2mm as a scale works best where the figures, the terrain and the rules work together. Another way of looking at this, is to think that “the figures can’t do it by themselves”.

Lovingly painted 2mm figure blocks – like Mark’s – catch the eye, but maybe not for as long as lovingly painted 28mm figures might do. In a 2mm game, the wargame creator needs (in my view) to offer something more, to supplement the figures and terrain. This leads a wargame creator with the opportunity to fill that gap with hand-outs, cards, play aids and other material which complements and augments the game on the table. Of course, this is true with any wargame – but perhaps even more true with a 2mm game, and certainly one at a wargames show.

Knowing that the 2mm figures need a context, a world in which to retain the players' interest spurs you on even further to recreate that world.


(3) Think Strategically: The 2mm scale of figures creates opportunities hard to realise in other scales. Mark’s game featured a campaign for the siege of a sizeable town, with events depicted including foraging, supply provision, naval blockade, reconnaissance, construction of field fortifications, field battles, retreats, refugees and amphibious landings.  Pretty much the whole world of the 17th Century Captain General.  The smaller 2mm scale of the figures allows a greater range of actions to be depicted than often occur on a wargames table. Just as the scale of figures reduces, the tactical and strategic scale of the wargame expands commensurately. 

So, in the Siege of Portsmouth 1642 game, scouting and reconnaissance, foraging and engineering were essential components of victory in the time context of the game. What resulted was not, of itself, a "better" game, but it was a quite different game to that offered in scales where the combatants just face off over a battlefield. 

(4) Make Your Own Rules: As a scale, 2mm is perhaps never going to be the first choice for most (or, perhaps, any) wargamers. For that reason, it is possible that there may be fewer wargames rules written for the scale than for, say, brigade-level Napoleonics. I don’t see this as a bad thing. It really forces a wargamer interested in playing a 2mm game to think about the type of game they want to play, and create rules to match. Any slight frustration at not having a well-used and widely popular set of 2mm 17th Century wargames rules to use is more than offset by the reward of having to research and write the rules ourselves, to fit the game we would like to play in this scale.

I should add at the end of this list that 2mm games do not have to be huge, or on a grand scale. We’ve had fantastic 2mm games on a table 2’ x 2’. The grander tactical or strategic option for wargames I the 2mm scale is there, but it’s a choice for you to decide if you want to take it

We also ended up winning the Best Participation Game Award at The Other Partizan, which was enormously generous of the show’s hosts, Tricks and Lawrence. So, hopefully, we’re doing something right!

Next time, I’ll look at some of the 1/1200th ships we made for the game, and perhaps offer some entertaining comments on how hopeless my attempts were to emulate the wonderful images on Rod Langton's website.  Hope you can join me for that!
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