Monday, 8 August 2016

The Sound of a Distant Drum - Spanish Flanders, 1688


One of the things I love about wargaming is the freedom it gives us to create a wargame in a particular time and place. This summer, I’ve enjoyed painting 28mm figures from late 17th century Spanish Flanders.

As periods of military history stand, it’s not really high on your list of memorable historical moments. We are not talking about the Battle of the Bulge. Nor Rorke’s Drift, or Hastings, or Waterloo, or Gettysburg. The military world of Spanish Flanders in the late seventeenth century has long since passed in the shadows of history. I can barely even point you in the direction of a good book on the subject (but more on that in another post!)


It isn’t easy to reconstruct the intricate network of alliances, armies, bloodlines and fortifications which dominated the strategic existence of Spanish Flanders during the 1670s and 1680s. There are painfully few history books (in any language, and certainly not English) which deal with the conflicts of the War of Devolution, or the Dutch War of 1672. Things get easier to research for the Nine Years War, but the forty years or so between 1643 and 1688 are far from accessible.

Recreating the orders of battles of Spanish, Flemish and Walloon troops who fought over Flanders and Brabant for the Hapsburgs is therefore a rather thankless task. A snippet here, a cast-away remark there - usually in history books focused primarily on Louis XIV, or one of his remarkable marshals such as Turenne or the Great Condé - is just about as good as you get.

The leading Flemish, Spanish and Walloon soldiers of the time are known by name, but only just. The hundreds of men who served under the Hapsburg banners in those wars have long since followed the drum into the mists and heavy clay soil of Flanders, as forgotten as the names of their battles – Seneffe, Cassel, Valenciennes and Cambrai.



No doubt, somewhere in the dusty libraries of Bruges, Antwerp and Madrid the definitive military history of the Flemish aristocracy from the 1670s and 1680s awaits its greatest chronicler. But no one has stepped forward in over three hundred years, and my guess is that no one is likely to do so any century soon.

Of course, this is all a bit romantic and pessimistic, isn’t it? The culture and physical history of the 17th Century Flemish world is very much alive, and evident for anyone to see in the magnificent and cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp, the jewel of the Spanish Netherlands.

And to my mind, the lack of accessible history can help a wargamer who enjoys being creative with history. One of the real pleasures of wargaming is taking what we can glimpse imperfectly in the past, and attempting to recreate that world in miniature on a wargames table. Like any recreation in miniature, it will not be perfect or definitive. And that’s part of the attraction. With few visible footsteps to follow, once you have discovered the few historical facts you can, the rest is down to your own intuition and insight. And, of course, the final result is influenced by your imagination, respectfully applied.

With this is mind, I’ve been painting up the regiments of a fictitious Flemish 17th Century town this year. I’ve called it Laarden, but I could have called it Antwerp or Ghent. 


I’d have had no greater idea what the colour of the Antwerp or Ghent civic militias' uniforms were, or what was depicted on their standards. For me, it’s been fun finding out what I could about the real world of 1670s and 1680s Flanders, and then filling in the gaps.  I don’t quite know what you call that. Not quite “imagi-nations”, beloved of so many great wargamers from the past and present. Not quite pure history, either; I freely confess a lot is made up.  What I'm aiming for is to recreate something which appears and “feels” real. Verisimilitude, if you like – something which looks real, or could plausibly be real.

So, as some of you might remember, here are some of the pike blocks of the Laarden civic militia, being memorialised in the oil and canvas by one of the city’s famous painters.


Here’s one of the town landmarks, a fine sculpture of a Satyr, perhaps close to one the city’s bathing houses or less reputable taverns ... 


... a collection of townsfolk administer refreshments to the assembling troops … 



… while a local cavalier makes a marriage proposal before leaving for the war …


… soon to be joined by another pike-block of civic militia and some engineers.



You might have seen these before.  I posted them in Curt’s Annual Painting Challenge last winter.  This summer I’ve been making plans to add to the Laarden contingent with some more organised companies of musketeers, with regiments of Horse to follow. I’ve been enjoying building up these forces a great deal and, who knows, there may even be some terrain boards they can march over in the next few months. 



One thing I would certainly like to offer here on the Blog, and which hopefully dovetails with my 2mm Thirty Years War project, is some thoughts on recreating campaigns in Northern Europe in the late seventeenth century on the wargames table. I’m aware this is a (horrifically) narrow topic, but over the years I’ve struggled to find a useful guide on the subject.  Perhaps the various bits and pieces of information about late seventeenth century campaigning I've collected through the years in my notebook might be helpful to someone somewhere! So, hopefully, I can offer you all that over the new few months and into the Autumn.


48 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed seeing all those Laarden vignettes during the Challenge. Beautiful work :)

    1688 - hmmm, 15 years too late for Msr d'Artagnan to make an appearance ;)

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    1. Hi Tamsin! And thanks for dropping by. Don't worry, there are more vignettes to come from Laarden! 1688 is a little late for d'Artagnan, but perhaps not for his son to appear...

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  2. I loved this project during the challenge and I am eagerly awaiting more. Any fool can do Waterloo or Gettysburg, it takes something else to think outside the box.
    Peter

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    1. Thanks so much Peter! Very kind words - I only hope I don't disappoint! And thanks as well, Jonathan!

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  3. Like Tamsin, I remember you're challenge entries with admiration.

    As to books, I haven't read them, but there are a couple of books by William Urban I have which look good:

    _Bayonets for Hire: Mercenaries at War, 1550-1789_ Greenhill Books(2007)
    _Matchlocks to Flintlocks: Warfare in Europe and Beyond, 1500-1700_ Frontline Books (2011)


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    1. Thanks Edwin! I have the first, but not the second. Dr Urban has made a good attempt at cornering the market on mercenary-related books, and more to come in that regard in due course!

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    2. I'll put in a plug for Christopher Duffy's 2 Volume work on the history of Siege Warfare (the first cover 1490-1660, the second covers your period). It gave me very good insights into this era of campaigning, especially given the focus on siege warfare in the lowlands.
      Peter

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    3. Thanks Peter! I've got Professor Duffy's three books on sieges (and wonderful they are). I shall be focusing in on some Vauban inspired terrain in the near future (hint...)

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  4. Excellent stuff, and back to a size of figure I can see :-)

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    1. Thanks Phil. No glasses required (hopefully) for these chaps! I love the opportunities which come from 2mm scale forces, but it is nice to be back to painting 25/28mm figures (and, yes, agonising over coat colours and buttons!)

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  5. Vignettes lovely as we expect fro your hand but another teasing glimpse of your notebook. THAT is a work of art too!

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    1. Thanks (again), Jonathan. There will be more to come from the 17th Century Notebook in due course, never fear! Sadly there are all too many pages of mad ideas and feverishly planned campaigns!

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  6. Go hard Sid! Show us what you have up your sleeve for this project. :)

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    1. I shall try not to disappoint seasoned rabbit-revealing watchers like your good self, Curt ;)

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  7. Very interesting subject!

    Lovely painted minis !!!

    Stunning notebook of yours, very inspirational !

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    1. Thanks Michael. I cannot dent that one of the great excitements of returning to the late 17th Century is the chance to try out some new rules for the period - including your eagerly awaited "The Pikeman's Lament". I think 1643-1688 is just about in the sweet-spot for those rules :)

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  8. Hi
    Nice work.
    A great story, map and painting pictures
    Late or not, I like d'Artagnan :)

    Spanish and Netherlands uses falangi formation
    Swedish new, so-called light regiment gun, and swedish strong cavalry, crushes these Spaniards falanges
    Later, same armors, helmets and weapons are Napoleonic Heavy cuirassiers armaments

    1400s russian united,
    between Sweden and Russia appeared on the following wars:

    Some North European war:
    Swedish King Karl Knutsson Bonde and the Danish King Christian I of the competition-Norwegian crown since 1448 will begin.
    Karl Knutsson Bonde's first war against Denmark 1449-1457
    Karl Knutson Bonde's second war, against Denmark 1468-1469
    The old anger (1495-1497)
    Large Russian war (1555-1557, ended with the peace of Moscow)
    The Nordic Seven Years' War (1563-1570) Denmark, Poland and Lübeck alliance against
    Livonian war (1558-1583)
    Nordic twenty-five year war (1570-1595, ended in peace Täyssinä)
    Mallet-war, in the years 1596-1597 (finnish civil war)
    Ingrian War (1610-1617, ended treaty of Stolbovo).
    Polish War (1600-1629)
    Northern War (1655-1660, ended Kardis peace)
    (1655-1661 Rupture-war)
    Thirty Years' War (1618-1648)
    French-Dutch War (Skåne or Scania war) 1674-1679
    Great Northern War (1700-1721, ended with the peace of Uusikaupunki)
    Hats War (1741-1743, ended with the peace of Turku)
    (hats-name used in referring to the war the Swedish party hat)
    Seven Years' War (Seven Year's War, 1756-1763)
    Gustav III's War (1788-1790, ended Värälä peace)
    The Finnish War (1808-1809, ended with the Peace of Hamina).
    The first war against Napoleon 1805-1810
    Second War against Napoleon 1813-1814
    War trip to Norway 1814










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    1. Thanks very much, MaxMini. A fine list of conflicts to choose from. I am particularly intrigued by the "Hats' War" (poorly-chosen headwear being an eminently suitable reason for armed conflict in any Gentleman's book), as well as the wonderfully non-descript "Old Anger". That is, the "Old Anger" as opposed to the "New Anger" and "Recent Anger", right? ;)

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    2. Hi
      Sorry, little long to explain :)
      My problem is language,
      only google translate...

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    3. Sweden's wars, there were many dozens
      of which the best known of these
      but I think these can be found on wikipedia

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    4. No need to apologise at all, Max!! You are most welcome here. Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts.

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  9. What a smashing post, really interested to see where this goes - and particularly interested in that fantastic looking notepad!

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    1. Thanks so much Ed! Much more to come from the notebook!

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  10. Spanish Flanders, as you call it - usually it's the Spanish Netherlands (Spaanse Nederlanden)- has a lot of history written about it. Perhaps not in English, but in Belgium and the Netherlands it's rather easy to find many books (in Dutch) about the period.

    Usually, the period is considered from 1556 (attachment to Spain of the 17 Provinces) to 1715 (When after the WSS, the remaining Southern provinces went to Austrian control), with a major turning point in 1585 with the split between the Southern and Northern parts, and the origin of the current Netherlands. This later event is very important in the psyche of the current Netherlands, and still a source of many discussions in current-day (Belgian) Flanders.

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    1. Well said, Phil - and huge thanks for commenting. An excellent reminder about historic sources and books, and about how I should remember to be more specific when talking about which language they're written in.

      The period I'm most focused on is the period immediately after the conclusion of the Eighty Years War - or, after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, if you prefer. I have really struggled to find much easily accessible military and campaign information on the Spanish Netherlands in the Fronde, the War of Devolution and the Dutch War - although I can well imagine that there's a host of information (in Dutch) about the horrific year of 1672 and William III's subsequent defence of the Netherlands against the French.

      I'll be listing some of the books I have found useful in a later blog post (including Eckberg, Sonnino, Lynn, Trevelyan, de Ségur, James II's Memoirs, and so on). I would be hugely grateful if you could cast an eye over that later post and let me know any obvious books (in any language) I've missed! Thanks again very much!

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  11. always a pleasure to check out your projects! I love the character in your pieces.

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    1. Hey Brian! Thanks so much for dropping by. Glad you're still enjoying my ramblings over all these years!

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  12. Lovely stuff! Nice to see all the civilians, too.

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    1. Thanks Simon. Civilians are always fun to paint up!

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  13. Lithuania was one of the knight-dukedom
    (Wikipedia)
    History of Lithuania
    Grand Duchy of Lithuania

    greeting
    :) Minimaxi

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  14. It will be interesting to see what you have up your sleeves here. Look forward too it

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    1. Thanks Dave - you can also watch the figures being painted in real-time on the Google+ painting community chat-a-thon!

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  15. Lovely painting and figures, strangely I am slowly doing a very similar period after falling in love with the Copplestone Sun King figures, now available as 1672 range from North Star. If you don't mind a touch of Fantasy, they are also right in period for the Witchfinder general rules as well.

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    1. Well done, Fred! It's a great period. The Copplestone Sun King range is amazing - the only reason I didn't go for that from the start was that I already had a lot of the smaller Dixon figures (with Wargames Foundry) for the period from the 1990s. Were I starting from scratch, I would certainly have opted for the North Star 1672 range.

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  16. Really interesting post and it's nice pottering in the grey areas history where there are bits and pieces of information to make best guesses on.
    Best Iain

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  17. Magnificient post Sidney! Your smashing paint jobs really deserve to be pulled back into the light time and again. Especially with such a rather eclectic but nonetheless highly interesting topic. Really love the glimpse into your note book! Hope to see more of these at some point.

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    1. Thanks Nick! More from the painting table and the notebooks soon!

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  18. Wow, just wow. Yet another incredible project. Will you be at the Other Partizan this year?

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    1. Hi Kieran! - I missed the Other Partizan with family commitments, but I'll be at Colours (Reading) and Crisis (Antwerp) in September and October respectively. I should be at the May Partizan next year - so we should definitely meet up!

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  19. Hi Sidney, See you in CRISIS, although maybe not with a bag of Croissants and coffee in hand, unless I buy a car. Would love to chat over this project of yours. I have just returned after 8 years in exile and am enjoying being back in Brussels immensely, as well as making re- aquaintance with my collections of figures that I left behind, only for my new collections to arrive next month from India. My small project for the winter is to prepare for a Suvorov campaign in 1799 in the Alps, I shall be very interested to hear how your mapping system works, why re invent the wheel?
    Best
    Graham

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    1. Hi Graham!! We are certainly heading to Crisis again this year, and your criossants will, as ever, be welcome. I shall come armed with my notebooks, and can talk you through the mapping process. Very good to have you back (in Europe, at least)!

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