Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Laarden 1688: Guldensporenstraat - the Street of the Golden Spurs


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. 

During my first few weeks in Laarden in the cold winter of 1689, I was almost overwhelmed by the number of civic dinners, town celebrations and council meetings either held in honour of my Master, the King of Spain, or to celebrate the arrival of my small delegation. The discussions at such gatherings ranged widely across politics, trade, the correct terms to address a Spanish plenipotentiary, the status of the current hostilities with France, the rising prices on the Laarden tulip exchange, and the current fashion for the colour yellow which appeared to be taking the town by storm. While Laarden is well known for both its good hospitality and fine food, in truth by deep mid-January my patience and stomach had, respectively, begun to tire of the endless diplomatic pleasantries and the rich fare of Laarden pheasants, Ghent eels, Campine chickens and Flemish oysters that out hosts had placed before us.

A week after New Year, I asked my guide, the young Flemish nobleman Antoine de Gautier, if we could venture one evening from the suffocating banqueting suite of the Hall of Deputies to find a local hostelry. In the process, I asked if he might introduce me to some of the heritage and history of the Town. I should have known by the gleam in his eye, which I confess I mistook for civic pride, that I was about to be 'entertained'.

Later that evening, the young Lord of Laarden announced that he would take me through Guldensporenstraat, the street of the Golden Spurs. It was a uniquely colourful name, the provenance of which was the Flemish victory over the French in 1302 in which the Laarden contingent performed most creditably. I had expected a grand avenue, close to the Grote Markt. My expectation was thoroughly misplaced.



Located in the artisan quarter of the city, Guldensporenstraat was not easy to find. I was led, eventually, to a narrow, poorly lit, damp alley-way, with rivulets of foul-smelling black water oozing between the cobblestones. A solitary crippled beggar, clad in filthy brown rags and a tattered hat with the remnants of a feather, sat by the entrance to the street amidst a litter of bottles and broken glass. 

"Spare a florin for a veteran of Seneffe and the siege of Valenciennes, Senhors?". His voice was like fingers ploughing through a pigs entails, phlegmy, soft and gurgling with an emerging respiratory fever. We stepped over him, Antoine grunting disinterestedly, as the beggar moved his alms bowl swiftly away.



At the other end of the narrow street, I saw a lavishly dressed man bedecked in the latest French fashions. The chevalier's coat, stockings and plumage were Hapsberg scarlet, and clearly of considerably quality. "Jan de Vichet.... one of Laarden's envoys to the French Court, recently returned from Versailles", de Gautier informed me after a firm nudge to my ribs.

"A man of power, and wealth... I wonder why he's here.... Ahhhh....that's why".

From the shadow of a door, cut into the vile alley-way, stepped a young woman, dressed soberly in Laarden grey. Her golden blond hair seemed to cascade out in a wild fashion from the confines of her cap. I heard her say something along the lines of "Nice to see you again, Senhor. The price is the same as last time", before both her and de Vichet vanished into the darkness of Guldensporenstraat.


  
I recoiled from the scene, unwilling to spend any more time in the miserable passageway. "Local heritage, Lord. You did ask...", gurgled de Gautier, a frothy bubble of laughter sounding in the depths of his throat. "Time for 'The Harvest Goose', I think", he added, point the way towards a nightwatchman carrying a guttering lantern. As we left Guldensporenstraat, the sound of our footsteps on the cobbles in the poorly lit streets were eventually drowned by a burst of tuneless singing drifting from the open door of a nearby tavern. I tried to disguise my disappointment, resigning myself to an inevitable hangover in the morning.


-----------------------------

De Vichet lingered in the doorway to watch the two noblemen wander off. He could just about make out the all-clear signal from Jean-Louis at the end of Guldensporenstraat, the beggar's bandaged hand waving in the gloom slowly. He looked at Agnes and passed her the coins. "So, which of the regiments were in the Grote Markt this morning and last week? Did you copy down their standards like I asked you? Have you found out when the Lorrainer cavalry are arriving? And the Duc de Luxembourg was most specific that he wanted details of the German and Polish cavalry quartered in Sint Vaalben - you remember, the ones I told you about..... the ones from the Baltic War?". 

Agnes smiled, and rolled one of her stockings down a fraction with a well-practiced gesture, tugging out a small fragment of paper with pencil marks all over it. "Tell His Grace that information like this comes at an additional price". De Vichet's eyes widened as he took the paper, reading the contents greedily. Without another word, his fingers delved deeper into his leather purse.




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I submitted this entry as part of the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge. I had not intended to paint the figures, or the buildings as part of the Challenge, but I got the idea for the scene from the BBC's drama "The Miniaturist", which I watched with my family over the Christmas and New Year holidays.



Part of the fun of creating a fictional (or perhaps, more accurately, and 'Alt-Historical' setting) for wargames - in the form of the fictional Free-Flemish city of Laarden in 1688 - is the freedom it gives to create story-lines which dovetail and intertwine with real history, without being dominated by the reality and time-frame of what actually happened in 1688.

Were French spies working feverishly in the Spanish Netherlands in advance of the Nine Years War? Was the Duc de Luxembourg seeking information regarding the mass of German and Dutch troops marching into Liege and the Bas-Meuse in early 1689? Were German mercenaries from the Scanian and Baltic Wars available for hire by a Flemish free-city, and could they have made the journey easily to Flanders? 

Part of the fun of creating a believable narrative is that all these things are possible, and unraveling fact and fiction is all part of the fun. Without making this post overly long, I'd like to return to the theme of Alt-Historical narratives for wargames later this month, along with the accurate historical background to all this nonsense, including some interesting background on 17th century spies, nightlife (gosh!) and the use of the term "Senhors" for noblemen in Laarden (and Antwerp).

The figures are a real mixture. Jan de Vichet, Laarden envoy to Versailles and thoroughly Francophile spy, is a 25mm Dixon Miniatures officer with a ludicrously large green-stuff wig and cravat. Agnes, another French spy (although with better justification) is an SHQ figure from their "Tavern" line. I liked her figure a lot, especially the fact that her gesture, fingering her stocking top, could emerge as something very different to what it first seems. I added her cap in green-stuff, and she may yet turn out to be an unlikely heroine. Jean-Louis, the sad veteran reduced to a begging bowl, is a Midlam Miniatures beggar with a Redoubt ECW headswap. The member of the Laarden Nachtwatch is a Foundry Thirty Years War sergeant, with his halberd swapped for a Mordheim lantern. Chickens and cockerel are from Warbases, as are the geese. The buildings are from the Hovels 25m European range, without conversion (although some of the resin bubbleholes got filled with green-stuff). The wonderful continental paving (which is ruinously expensive brass fret at £8 a sheet) is from Scalelink. I rarely use it, but it looks very nice. It was glued using epoxy resin to the plywood base (more details on my blog to come). It's a shame no-one makes the distinctive North European paving in plastic sheeting, as I think it sets the scene for the houses very well.



I hope you've enjoyed this post. There'll be more from 1688 Laarden in a few days. Hope you can join me for that.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Thirty Years War in 2mm: Nördlingen 1634


Following on from my last post, focusing on a regiment of Flemish Horse in 25mm, I thought I’d post some pictures of their 2mm counterparts. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s “spectacles on” time again here at Roundwood Towers as we delve again into the oddly compelling world of 2mm micro-miniatures.


For new followers to this Blog, it might help to let you know that in 2016 I started a project trying to replicate on the tabletop key battles of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Rather than collecting an army in a larger scale (such as 28mm or 15mm), I went for the smallest generally used wargames scale – being 2mm.

This is not quite as insane as it sounds (and, yes dear readers, I am aware of just how insane it does sound). Key elements of the thinking behind choosing the 2mm scale were to create a wargame focused on re-creating iconic 17th Century battles in a manageable space, and in a compressed time period (so you could easily play a game in an evening). The 2mm scale enables whole armies to be recreated quickly, with one unit base equating to a whole formation (battalion, regiment, tercio or brigade of foot; squadron or regiment of horse; battery of artillery; and so on). The scale of the units then hopefully allows the chance to test out multiple Spanish tercios against Swedish brigades, allows to add commanded musketeers into the line, and lets the players deploy multiple lines of infantry and horse on each side (as at Lützen, Rocroi and many other battles). Hopefully, the recreation of the battle then focuses on tactical contrasts, and far less on individual unit formations.


I set out more of the thought process behind the scale choice in a couple of earlier posts on this Blog (HERE and HERE). Suffice to say its now 2018, and I’m still very much enamored of the potential afforded by 2mm, in addition to being captivated by the possibilities of modelling their micro-world.




After collecting armies for the battle of Lützen in 1632, the next additions are based around the Spanish army of the Cardinal-Infante which made the long march through Italy and Germany to be present at the battle of Nördlingen in 1634. Here I've painted some German horse, Spanish demi-lancers, a party of Croat scouts or vedettes, some Spanish commanded shot and (to balance things out) some Swedish and Finnish scouting horse. The command bases are the Cardinal-Infante, and the Count of Fuensaldaña, one of the Spanish-Imperial commanders of the later Thirty Years War.


The figure bases are colour coded for ease of recognition on a snowy tabletop - blue for Swedes, Black for Germans and deep (Hapsburg) red for the Spanish. This works really well in practice, and helps with a section in the rules we’re writing relating to allied contingents. One of the things which conceals the nationality of the troops from an opponent on the table is to ensure that the colour coding is limited to the rear of the figure bases. 

I've experimented with some 1mm snow 'flock', which is quite fun. It's really like a fine dusting of miniature cotton, but makes quite convincing show, which would be decent 'slush' in a larger scale. I added the labels for the commanders from a printed PowerPoint file, trimmed and glued on with PVA.





I thought the 1mm snow definitely added something, but was fiddly to apply.  An optional extra, but far from essential. 

I've also started painting up some larger terrain items, including this small town which I've tried to render in a Flemish or North German brick effect.  The town was very kindly sent to me by wargaming chum, and very good friend, Matt Moran.  Thanks again Matt for your great generosity!





I've really enjoyed making terrain in 2mm (not least because its so easy to finish whole towns in an evening).  The 'world-building' aspect of this scale is just as addictive as in larger scales. 

Next up will be some more larger scale terrain and figures from Laarden, 1688, along with a couple of book reviews.  Have a great start to the week, everyone!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Happy New Year: Flemish Horse 1688, and New Year Plans



I realise that a fair few days have passed since the New Year began, but I’d still like to start this new year of posts on Roundwood’s World by wishing all readers, commentators, bloggers and followers a very happy, healthy and great New Year, 2018!

With that greeting completed, I’ve posted a few pictures below of some painting I’ve been doing over the Christmas and New Year period as part of Curt Campbell's fine Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge VIII, which I am participating in.

This first post covers some Flemish Horse from 1688, being the regiment of Pfilips de Vichet. The figures are mainly 25/28mm figures from Wargames Foundry, with a couple of Dixon Miniatures added (the standard bearer, and the equerry to Count de Vichet). The fine standard is from Flags of War.



I swapped out a number of horses from the Foundry Marlburian range and used Foundry ECW horses, which fit perfectly. I did not undertake much in the way of conversions, although I added green-stuff feathers for the regiment, and gave Count de Vichet a new sword arm which produced a more martial and inspiring pose on his rearing horse.





Although the figures are painted for my fictional Laarden project, set in 1688, I’ve tried to replicate authentic colours for the uniforms where possible. In this regard, I’ve used the paintings of Philips Wouvermans and David Teniers the Younger to try and get the colours and “feel” of the cavalry uniforms correct. Other details can be found in the excellent book, “Spanish Armies in the War of the League of Augsberg, 1688 – 1697”, now published by the Pike & Shot Society, which covers both Spanish armies and the Flemish, German and Walloon forces raised in the Spanish Netherlands.







I normally try and paint my own flags for units, but I decided against that here. This is mainly because the standards produced by Flags of War are so wonderful and easy to use, and partly because I was short of time for the Challenge submission!

As regards what’s going to be here on the blog in 2018, long-term readers will be wary of any of my predictions. Life in the guise of family, work and friends inevitably gets in the way of everyone’s hobby aims, and I’m no different. I am hoping to post a few more figures, research, book reviews and ideas for wargaming the second half of the seventeenth century on this Blog in 2018. I think that the second half of the seventeenth century is a wonderful period for wargaming and, with luck, the material I'm hoping to place here on the blog and in the linked Google Drive folders will be of interest to someone out there. 

There will also be more 2mm Thirty Years War material.  Curt and myself are continuing to play-test the rules, and I'm starting to prepare the additional figures I need to recreate Nordlingen 1634.

There’ll be some more posts in a day or so with some additional 25/28mm Laarden-related figures, so I very much hope you can join me for that.
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